Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

cvr9781442408920_9781442408920_hrInformation: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was published in 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 1442408928

Plot Summary: Aristotle is a high school boy, struggling with his anger about his brother being in jail and no one is talking about it. Dante is an unusually positive kid, who is eager to go out and explore new parts of growing up. When they meet one day at the swimming pool, Aristotle reluctantly lets Dante in and they become best friends. But after Ari gets injured by saving Dante from being hit by a car, their relationship changes. A tension comes over them as Ari becomes unwilling to share his thoughts with Dante. After Dante moves away for a year, the two are reunited and are forced to come to terms with what separated them in the first place.   

Critical Evaluation: The novel explores how a relationship can build and evolve over time. Both characters are unsure of how things are going and occasionally unsure of the feelings they are having themselves. The story also examines how misdirected anger can impact relationships and change how people function and continue to grow.

Reader’s Annotation: After Aristotle is injured saving his best friend from an accident, Ari struggles with his emotions and what they truly mean for Dante.

Author’s Information: Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.

His first novel, Carry Me Like Water was a saga that brought together the Victorian novel and the Latin American tradition of magic realism and received much critical attention.

In The Book of What Remains (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), his fifth book of poems, he writes to the core truth of life’s ever-shifting memories. Set along the Mexican border, the contrast between the desert’s austere beauty and the brutality of border politics mirrors humanity’s capacity for both generosity and cruelty (Goodreads).

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, LGBTQIA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary

Curriculum Ties: (Florida State Curriculum Standards): Understanding Key Literary Ideas

Book Talk Ideas:

  • Was there a healthier way for Aristotle to work through his anger?
  • After Dante and Aristotle exchanged a few letters, did you think there would have been an easier way for them to communicate? Or would it have changed what happened between them?

Reading Level/ Age Interest: Grades 9-12 and Ages 15-18

Challenge Issues: Violence, Sex, Homosexuality, Smoking, Language

Challenge Defense File:

Selection Policy

The System will select and maintain a comprehensive collection of print, non-print, audio visual and electronically accessed materials to meet the informational, educational, and recreational needs of the citizens of Sarasota County. The System will strive to offer wide ranging collections that meet the various ages, interests, educational levels, and cultural backgrounds of all members of the community and will provide collections through which an individual may explore all points of view and issues of interest. In making selections, the library staff will do so based upon principle rather than personal opinion, reason rather than prejudice, and judgment rather than censorship. Furthermore, staff will be responsive to public demand for materials of contemporary significance and interest, while balancing this with the need to collect and preserve materials of permanent value. While library staff makes material selections based upon the tenet of one system, one collection, selectors recognize the distinct characteristics and needs of the populace that each library services. Community profiles are used to guide selectors in efforts to develop special collections and to meet the unique patron needs within each library.

The ultimate responsibility for selection materials rests with the General Manager of Libraries and the Management Team, who in turn delegates selection responsibilities to the Collection Development Librarians (Sarasota County Policy).  


Alire Sáenz, B. (2012). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This story explores the emotions of teenage boys, which is often overlooked or ignored. The novel examines the struggle of holding on to anger and how that can quickly be misdirected and even ruin relationships.

Other recommendations like this book include: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth.

Active Listening Skills

  • Remain calm
  • Listen thoughtfully and carefully to any arguments for the collection
  • Engage in a discussion that considers every concern, even if you do not agree


  • Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2013)
  • Michael L. Printz Award Nominee (2013)
  • Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee for Young Adults (2015)

Reconsideration Form


Selection Tools:

Why I chose this book:

I chose this book because of it’s beautiful inspiration for those who struggle to identify their emotions. It also explores the evolution of a relationship and the slow realization of real feelings that can grow between two people.


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