There are few books that I can say I’ve read all the way through without stopping. Before Aristotle and Dante, I believe it was The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks. Continuing my theme of heart-wrenching romance novels, I made Saenz’s YA whirlwind my first non-school required reading of 2017. Throughout the night, it became the most beautiful and most innocent story I’ve ever read.
Aristotle and Dante are two Mexican-American boys living in El Paso, Texas in 1987. Slowly but surely, the pair develops an unbreakable friendship tackling both jointly and individually issues of sexuality, racial identity, family relationships, and just being young and trying to find yourself. It’s a very passionate novel, and I think anybody who loves themselves should devour it.
It’s much different reading young adult fiction when you are an actual young adult because the genre is actually more directed toward pre-teens. When you’re twelve or thirteen, the fanciful fanfare of a fantasy romance is riveting; it’s idealistic. It’s why we loved Twilight and wanted runes all over us and somehow turned a post-apocalyptic child abusing tyranny into a love triangle. Have you tried though, reading Twilight as an actual young adult? It’s excruciating. And I love Twilight. I do. But trying to read any portion of any of those books as a person with any concept of the real world is nauseating. Not so with Aristotle and Dante. That book is beautiful no matter what stage of life you are in.
Where Ari & Dante succeed is in its simplistic beauty. Sometimes life in itself is so raw and telling that it doesn’t need to be embellished. It can just be a story told straight from the heart. This book is able to engender so much emotion because it is just so tender. With its sincere quotes and deep, relatable content, it made me yearn to be a preteen or a young teenager again, just so that I could better readily identify with the sentiments in the book. As we get older, I think we tend to get harder emotionally. Colder. This story warms you up. It makes you want to be fifteen/sixteen again, to be rediscovering the world as recklessly and romantically as you can.
After I read this book, I had all the feelings that come with finishing a quality book. Incredulity. I finished it? Already? Devastation. I finished it…Already. Fanaticism. I finished it! Already! …Now I must get a tattoo of every quote and also the back and cover artwork. Seriously. It’s been months since I finished that book, and I still feel the same. I loved it so much, I almost gave it away to let someone else read. Almost.
I guess the moral of my story is, even if you’re older, even if you’re reading/expected to read more “adult” books, don’t deny yourself the ardent frenzy of young adult fiction. That genre acts as a connector to our younger selves. Whether or not we particularly enjoyed that time in our lives or not, it’s a little addicting to reminisce; Nostalgia is truly one of the most powerful drugs. I believe that we leave a part of ourselves in the stories we read, and it turns a part of them stays with us. Maybe that’s why it hurts so much when one ends. It’s like a small, personal death. Still, I’d say it’s worth it.
For those who have yet to read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, you now know what to do. For those who have read it, read it again, look out for the sequel coming out at the end of this summer, look out for a movie at some point (there’s already a screenplay written!), and remember that Saenz declared June 15th as “Ari met Dante Day.” We are instructed to make our own t-shirts. Happy reading!
Author: Kennedy Horton
Editor: Han Angus
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.