Intro to Historical Fiction: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe medal cover

Since this whole class is optional, you can choose to participate (or not) whenever you wish.

However, if you choose to participate, we want to make clear our expectations for that participation.

  • Realize that you should have the book read before you read through the comments. Spoilers will likely appear in the conversations, so please do not be surprised or angry if this happens.

  • Bring reader questions and observations about the text. We will throw our own questions and observations out for you to consider,  but your questions and observations are as important and necessary in this as ours.

  • Please abide by the Thumper Rule when interacting with others:

  • Back up what you’re asking or saying with quotes and page numbers so that we can all follow along.

  • Think about and share possible thematic text connections (classics, YA lit, picture books, poetry, non fiction texts, news stories, movies, YouTube videos). This will be especially helpful information for the teachers among  us, but it’s good thinking for all of us.

Some additional housekeeping thoughts:

  • Please try to respond to be careful about responding to comments – keep main threads together, but try not to get where it is so indented that no one can read what you’re posting!
  • Also consider clicking “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” when you post a comment. This will keep you informed of continued discussion without having to come back at random intervals to see if there is anything new.
  • Consider introducing yourself briefly in your first post and including a link for your blog if you have one.




This entry was posted in Historical Fiction, Summer 2013 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Intro to Historical Fiction: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

  1. Taryn H. says:

    I truly enjoyed this book with all my heart and soul. The relationships between the characters (Ari, Dante, and their parents) was beautifully captured by Saenz. I was crying at the end because it was so well written and I wasn’t ready for it to end.

    My favorite part of the book is when Dante tells Ari that he could never run away from home because he’s crazy about his parents. This book makes me want to be a better parent. My kids are currently 7 and 9, and right now, I think they know how crazy about them I am, but when they’re teenagers, I hope they’re crazy about me too.

  2. Jane says:

    I found it interesting that the author chose to not reveal that Aristotle was gay until the end. It did make for a powerful climax, so was that the author’s point? Or was the author writing a story about the struggle some young men have about owning up to their sexual preference? The reader was not given full access to Ari’s journals, but the ones we were given access to were more in line with a heterosexual young male’s thoughts, such as wondering what girls taste like when they are kissed. Could we assume that Ari had written in his journals those other thoughts he might have had, or is the author telling us that even gay men when they are young deny their own identity?

  3. BJ Neary says:

    I read Eleanor and Park late spring and many teachers/librarians told me that they loved Aristotle and Dante along the same lines and I really do agree. Seanz’s writing and words were awesome in the way the 80s era was portrayed with a brother in prison, a father’s distance after he comes back from the Vietnam War, Mexican American identities and cultural traditions, cars, clothes, fashion, and caring parents. It would be interesting to have students read and discuss both this book and Eleanor and Park comparing the romantic aspects, sexuality, and coming of age. I loved Aristotle as the narrator; he is so hard on himself but he is also so ardent and protective as Dante’s friend. He had such a difficult time expressing himself but luckily we have his thoughts—- on page 56 “And it seemed to me that Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without any darkness. Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?”
    So many YA books have dysfunctional families and it would be a good exercise to have students find other YA books that have loving parents like Dante and Aristotle.

  4. Terry says:

    Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought it was quite lovely; I love it when poets write fiction. I also really enjoyed reading a book from a boy’s point of view. I liked that there weren’t a lot of easy answers or easy resolutions (for the most part), and that sometimes Ari just felt terrible, or lost, or angry, without even knowing why, and that’s part of finding one’s identity/being a teenager.

    I’m old enough that I sputtered at the thought that a book that takes place in 1987 is considered “historical fiction”! I wondered for a while why this book “had” to take place in the late 1980s. Does anyone have any thoughts? I wondered if part of it was that a significant part of their friendship takes place over letters, which have a different pace and impact than, say, texting. And that Facebook/Instagram was just lifted out of their experience. I wonder how odd contemporary teens find that? (I know Judy Blume had to revise newer editions of books like Tiger Eyes to explain away some things that could have been solved by cell phones. Like I said, I’m old enough to remember when that wasn’t an issue in teen books!)

    If I had any quibble about the book it’s that all four parents are pretty universally accepting of both boys, even of Ophelia and Franny. From my experience in the 1980s, being an out gay teen, even if “just” out to one’s family, wasn’t quite so “easy” or accepted or common. I can’t speak specifically to the Mexican or Mexican-American experience, but from informal conversations with Mexican/Mexican-American students (who are usually 17-21 years old) there is still a significant cultural bias toward “traditional” gender-based roles and expectations and behavior.

    On the other hand, it is nice in YA Lit to see parents be so open and accepting and seeking out a healthy relationship with their kids, as BJ said–it’s nice to see a book WITHOUT “dysfunctional” families in it.

  5. Sarah says:

    I apologize for being so late in my response to these books. I feel horrible that, as one of the creators, I didn’t participate on the actual day of discussion. Unfortunately we lost power and then I was sick. It’s been a mess.

    ANYWAY. I adore this book, but like a few of you have said, I wonder why Saenz chose to have this take place in the 80s. I actually had to remind myself a couple of times that this is “historical fiction” even though I hate describing the 80s as historical. I wonder if maybe he purposely chose to write such accepting parents to make a statement that even in the 80s parents could be accepting and understanding, so they should be now as well.

    Regardless, I love how beautiful Ari and Dante’s relationship/friendship is. I like that Ari doesn’t realize or admit that he’s gay until the end because it allows the reader to view their relationship without stigma or bias or label (I’m having a hard time finding the right word). We read the story just as it is. Sure, I kept wondering if Ari is gay, but I was more focused on enjoying seeing their relationship grow regardless of a label.

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