Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Literary story of two boys' life-changing friendship.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 35 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dante is an intellectual who loves books and poetry and art; his interests inspire Ari to read more and to make an effort to improve his vocabulary.

Positive Messages

Dante is confident about who he is -- even when he confesses to Ari that he doesn't feel Mexican enough, he accepts that about himself, and Ari admires his friend for his self-assurance. For Ari, it's a struggle to come to terms with his place in the world and to talk about his feelings, but he continually analyzes himself and tries to find peace of mind. Both boys value their families and respect their parents, though Ari has several issues with his and Dante does not.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ari is a deep-thinking boy who questions the world around him despite the fact that he has a difficult time talking about his feelings. As his friendship with Dante blooms, he begins to be able to broach subjects that he has always wondered about, such as why his dad can't speak about his time in the Vietnam War and why neither of his parents will talk about his imprisoned brother. Dante is warm, open, and sure of himself and helps Ari break out of his shell.


There's a car accident, but no one is seriously hurt. Dante gets jumped by a group of boys, and Ari punches a boy, breaking his nose. A murder is mentioned.


Both Ari and Dante experiment with kissing girls. Dante talks about thinking about boys while he does so and eventually ends up making out with a boy. Dante asks Ari in a letter if he likes to masturbate. Sexual orientation is discussed as Dante comes to terms with his homosexuality and worries about what his parents' reaction will be when he tells them; Ari struggles with accepting his own sexuality and how he feels about Dante.


Ari thinks about language and word choice quite a bit and tries out curse words on his mother to see how she'll react. She doesn't allow him to say "f--k" and objects to "s--t" and "ass" but at one point uses the latter herself when she's upset about something. "Bastard" is quoted in a poem by William Carlos Williams, and both boys like the fact that they can legitimately say the word aloud because it's in a poem.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Ari's dad smokes, and so does a girl Ari has a crush on. Both boys try pot but don't make a habit of it. They also drink beer, which Ari's mother grudgingly allows after giving a serious warning to Ari about never drinking and driving; he heeds her advice.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 2013 Printz Honor Book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an introspective coming-of-age story about two Mexican-American boys growing up in El Paso, Texas, in 1987. It brings up questions of identity, particularly in terms of sexuality and sexual orientation. Each boy experiments with kissing a girl; one also does so with a boy. They also try weed and drink beer. Dante gets jumped by a group of boys, and Ari (short for Aristotle) punches a boy, breaking his nose. And Ari tries out a few curse words to see how his mom reacts. But the book's real focus is friendship and how the perspective and love of a good friend can make you look at yourself differently and motivate you to change for the better.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bybeeboowho October 9, 2018

Oh boy I cried

This is my all time favourite book, Every word seems to carefully chosen. Its the most beautifully written thing. I've cried just thinking about it.
I read... Continue reading
Adult Written byLHerr January 23, 2021

Beautiful coming of age

“She looked into my eyes. I wanted to look away. But I didn't. Her eyes were like the night sky in the desert. It felt like there was a whole world living... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byTripFoot June 4, 2013

This book... it is beautiful... my tiny mind cannot comprehend so much beauty... what is happening to me...

My absolute favorite book of all times. Perfect for literature classes to dissect - this one is amazingly written - BUT it is not just an "intelligent book... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCeliaclove February 17, 2020
This book is amazing !
You should go read it now !

What's the story?

At age 15, Ari is a loner who has never had a friend before -- until he meets Dante at the swimming pool. When Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim, the boys discover they make each other laugh, which seems more important than the fact that they have little in common other than that they're both Mexican American and live in El Paso. Dante's love of books and art, as well as his open appreciation of his parents, makes Ari look at his own family differently and inspires him to try to uncover the mystery of his dad, who rarely speaks. Over two summers and the intervening school year, the boys share laughs, secrets, and philosophies. As Aristotle tries to figure out his role in the universe, the importance of Dante's friendship both bothers him and keeps him going -- and, ultimately, changes the course of his life.

Is it any good?

The distinctive first-person voice of Aristotle, both straightforward and poetic, perfectly captures the uncertainties of a teen boy who has long held himself aloof but might want to change that. Ari's frequent melancholy is balanced with a self-deprecating sense of humor and sharp observations, making him sympathetic and likable.

Although there are some exciting scenes, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE focuses more on internal than external action. Because of this, the novel may not be for everyone; the more literary reader, however, will find Aristotle's journey into adulthood and self-acceptance engaging and moving.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Ari found it so hard to talk to his dad. Why do you think that changed?

  • How does the book address the issues of sexuality/sexual orientation? Teens: How would you feel if your best friend told you he or she was gay?

  • Ari's parents don't let him watch television in the daytime during the summer (the book takes place in 1987, so there are no cell phones, iPods, etc.). Teens: What would you do with your time if your parents didn't allow you to use any electronics during the summer?

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