Book Review

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World

Genre | YA Contemporary Fiction
Page #s | 516
Publishing Date | October 2021

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior year to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching out to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante, dreamy, witty Dante, who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

Goodreads

The long awaited sequel to one of my favorite books of all time, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, this book had a lot to live up to! Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World has the same quiet sweetness of its predecessor that builds upon previous themes in very satisfying ways.

In the first book, Ari learns to love himself and open up to the possibility of romantic love. In the sequel, his willingness to be vulnerable and let other people into his life expands to include family and friends…and even the odd teacher or two. He has always been a squishy heart and thoughtful mind in a sullen body, and it is so lovely to see him share all the parts of himself with others. And for many of them to essentially roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, we knew you were a squishy heart! Thanks for catching up!”

I also particularly loved seeing Ari, who spends 99% of his time in his head, discover the joys of a having a body. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a teenage boy discovering his sexuality in such an open, tasteful, and beautiful way. It helps that his love for Dante isn’t all, or even mostly, about sex. Ever the wise teenager, Ari spends a lot of time mulling over the intricacies and complications of loving someone vs. falling in love with someone. They are committed and thoughtful toward each other in a way that is somehow very believable for two 17-year-olds.

The whole book has a kind of dreamy, fantastical feel that is most obvious in the fact that there is very little plot happening here. In fact, the piece of plot that the book jacket forewarns you of doesn’t happen until at least 2/3 of the way through the book! It’s mostly just Ari having beautifully honest and poetic conversations with people. I have to admit that I sometimes thought this veered into the unrealistic, as almost no one says anything rude or incorrect (with one notable exception…but even then, Ari and his parents handle it perfectly). I advise readers to go in with the expectation that this is a book about healthy relationships, and enjoy the feast of examples before you.

On the topic of plot, I will whole-heartedly defend Saenz’s choice to make this YA book’s central conflict NOT “will they stay together” or “will our parents/friends approve of us” but instead, the focus is on, “How do I exist in the world as a gay person (in the 80s)?” This is perhaps a very personal opinion, but I am tired of dramatic coming out stories; however, I also don’t want all of my books to gloss over all of the struggles involved in coming out. I felt that this book balanced these two extremes very well.

Who Do I Recommend This Book To?

If you love a book about good people doing good things whilst saying beautiful things, then you have hit the jackpot with Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World!

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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