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The Secrets of Ourselves: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


When I discover who I am, I will be free.”

Ralph Ellison

Self-discovery, friendship and love. These three things have recently been quite controversial topics that many teens, if not all, question at one point of their adolescent lives. They’re tricky subjects to deal with alone, especially during these years where we believe that everything about our lives should suddenly become clear. Of course, that’s not true. Life is a big ball of mess, but of course, it’s hard to accept it. That’s where self-doubt and confusion come in, gnawing away at our minds and making us feel more worthless and lost than ever.

In this first week of the break that we all desperately need, I devoured the book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. The story circles around Aristotle, or Ari, a fifteen-year-old recluse struggling to live pretty much as a guaranteed loner for the rest of his life. That is, until he meets Dante. They develop a bond almost instantly when they first meet, and with that comes both of the boys’ long, difficult journey leading to the discovery of not only all the secrets of the universe, but the secrets that they hold within themselves.

This book absolutely broke my heart in ways that I didn’t know were possible. It made me laugh, it made me cry, but most of all, it made me think. The story itself taught its characters the lessons of growing up that everyone needs. Ari learns to open his isolated world to the people he loves as well as how to appreciate himself for who he is. Dante shows the acts of compassion and empathy and teaches us and Ari how it’s okay to sit down and have a good cry when you’re feeling down. In the society that we live in today, it’s hard for people to freely express their emotions. This novel shows how it’s perfectly okay to let others understand your thoughts and feelings.

Apart from a great depiction of the coming-of-age genre, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe involves a notable amount of LGBTQ+ conflicts. We are at an age where although it has been receiving a great load of support, LGBTQ+-related issues are still common. The author, Sáenz, portrays the problem in a superb manner in the book by including the different obstacles that members in the LGBTQ+ community must overcome. Sáenz also carefully emphasizes how it’s okay to, as he puts it, “play by different rules.” The story is a great way to give readers the courage they may need to feel confident in themselves for being who they are, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Although I am not usually a big fan of books with a romantic subplot, I will say that I had to set aside that belief for this book. It’s a great tool for people feeling off-track about themselves. Whether you’re just a little adrift, or you feel like you can’t escape your sadness, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe can help prove that you’re not alone. Who knows? Maybe one day, you’ll unlock the secrets to your own universe.

On a side note, hope you are all enjoying the holidays! Have a great Christmas and Kwanzaa! 

Ottawa Public Library’s Teen Bloggers in Residence are fantastic teen volunteer writers from across the city. They blog about their favourite teen reads and authors, and get writing assignments to cover special teen events happening at the library. Their residency rotates throughout the year. Call-outs for upcoming terms are made through the Teen Blog in May/June, September/October and January/February.