Book Review & Summary of Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz


a review and summary of aristotle and dante dive into the waters of the world by benjamin alire saenz cover mockup
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This book is the sequel to Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe which was a required reading for my young adult literature class. A blurb from this novel was tucked in the back of the first one, and it seemed to pick up right where the first novel left off and gave just enough information to be intriguing. 

One of my classmates had also told me about the book saying “if you like the first one and aren’t ready to let go of the characters just yet, you should definitely check out the sequel. It’s so good.” 

And because I definitely wasn’t ready to let go of the characters yet, that’s exactly what I did.

And honestly I think it might be even better than the first.

As mentioned before, the novel starts off right where the first novel left off with Ari & Dante waking up together in the desert after spending a glorious night alone in their love for each other. Ari grapples with his newfound and deeply intense feelings and especially with his identity that makes him a target for hate. He starts to keep a regular journal that he uses to write letters to Dante that he doesn’t intend to send, and just like with the first novel, it’s through these letters and his interactions with the people around him that we see Ari grow into himself.

quote “Let yourself be loved. For all you know, there’s a long line of people wanting to let you in.”
In the book, Ari realizes that he won't be able to go through life alone and starts to create a circle of people he loves and trusts.

He realizes that he won’t be able to go through life alone and also that he doesn’t have to. He reaches out to people he knows he can trust and forms a stronger connection with them by confiding in who he really is. He forms a strong circle of friendship and family, surrounding himself with love as the world around him continually rears its hateful head. 

The book touches upon the AIDS pandemic in the late 80s and how the world turned its back on people–human beings–who needed help and support simply because they were gay. As he and Dante subtly explore their desires together, we can recognize the palpable fear of what it was like to be a gay man growing up in a world that wanted you dead.

quote “Maybe love would save us. Or maybe hate would destroy the earth and everybody in it.”
The novel explores the fear of being a gay man in the 1980s

Just like with the first book, though, the novel navigates these topics deftly. I do feel like this novel was a bit more “preachy” than the first one, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I certainly enjoyed adding more to my collection of beautiful quotes. And for the most part, the heavier themes are mostly an ever-present undercurrent in a story where so much is constantly happening.

And I mean, a lot happens in this book.

For one, Ari finally meets his brother in prison and realizes that the man from his dreams he thought he missed is not who his brother actually is. As he grapples with the disappointment of his unmet expectations, he comes to realize that there is more to his reality than what lives inside his mind.

quote “I used to live in a world that was made up of the things I thought. I didn’t know how small that world was. I was suffocating in my own thoughts.”
Ari eventually realizes that there is more to life than the thoughts that live inside his head.

Near the end of the novel, Ari loses someone who meant the world to him and is tasked with writing the eulogy and it’s just about one of the most beautiful things ever. I had to put the book down and cry for a minute before I could continue reading.

Then, I was struck with heartbreak again when—SPOILER ALERT—Dante and Ari break up. The breakup is, of course, a total misunderstanding and they wind up getting back together in the end BUT I definitely stopped breathing for a moment because OH MY GOD NOOOOO!

Thankfully, the novel comes to a close in the most romantic and poetic way it possibly could. The novel ends with the two of them holding hands and staring at the painting that was mentioned in the first novel as Ari is reflecting on how his life is like that painting; it is him and his people fighting to survive a violent storm atop a nearly broken raft. But despite their struggle, they have hope they’ll eventually make it to the shore together. It’s a moment that perfectly encapsulates the entire novel and gives us closure in the best kind of way.

quote  “If you are brave enough to sit and listen to the voice of the universe in the silence that lives within you, then you will always know what matters—and you will know too that you matter more to the universe than you will ever know.”

Overall, Aristotle & Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World serves as a reminder that the hardest and most rewarding thing we’ll do in this life is learn how to live in love. And not just romantic love, but the big, all-caps LOVE you have for your family, your tribe, your PEOPLE. But also for the world that maybe doesn’t love you back and the future that’s yet to come. 

And what’s more beautiful than that?

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