“There are worse things in the world than a boy who likes to kiss other boys.”
Whenever anyone asked me what I was reading this week, I would reply with the full title Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe. Yes it’s long winded. Is it also incredibly beautiful? Yes, yes it is.
This book was absolutely everything I needed at the moment and reading it as Pride was happening in London and Bristol was extremely warming, it was all the positive vibes you could muster.
Initially it was a bit hard to get into, but only because I haven’t read anything like it. Sáenz writes such short poetic sentences, and the word choices are so soft and gentle that I lulled my way through it. This is then cut through with occasional sharp snapping dialogue. One particular sentence has left me still thinking about it, days after I’ve finished the book:
“I’m an educated woman, that doesn’t un-Mexicanise me, Ari”
This delves into how many forms of identity there is. Ari’s mum is reinforcing her identity as a woman, a Mexican woman, and an educated woman – all whilst society constantly tells her she can’t be all those things at once. Even her own son is making comments which hit a nerve.
That is something Sáenz does extraordinarily. Identity is such a complex mass of thoughts, and it’s represented as such so beautifully on the page. It tells the story of how both Ari and Dante discover and confront their sexuality differently – with Dante knowing confidently that he is gay, and in contrast, it taking Ari by surprise almost.
For Dante, it’s a lot easier to accept himself as gay than it is for him to fully identify himself as Mexican. Sáenz explores the idea of feeling like a fraud and not being “Mexican enough” which is very relateable in other aspects of identity, and is definitely not talked about enough in fiction.
There isn’t a major plot per say. It reads more like a snapshot of Ari and Dante’s lives – when they meet and how they shape each other’s lives in the process. I really enjoyed this format as it allows the characters to keep on living (in my head) even though the book has come to an end.
What was also incredibly refreshing is that both characters are not perfect – they have very real flaws. It’s always interesting when the main character is not entirely likeable – I think it makes or breaks the book, and in this one, it definitely made it.
Overall: definitely pick this one up.