Friday, 20 November 2015

Review: Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Publication Date: April 9th 2013 (audiobook release)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: 7hrs 29 mins

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship--the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

So many people have loved this book, so many people whose bookish overlap mine, so I was expecting to love this book when I finally sat down to listen to it. Unfortunately it ended up being a bit of a rocky road. I don’t know if it was that I didn’t get along with listening to it and would have loved it had I decided to read it instead, or whether I was in the wrong frame of mind, but this novel and I really did not get along until around 80% of the way through. And that was heart-breaking.

I couldn’t connect with the characters, I found both Ari and Dante frustrating. I was irritated by the emotional swings – people crying all the time. The writing style was at times abrasive and abrupt, intermittently littered with truly beautiful prose. It was just such a mix and I couldn’t settle into the story.

Finally at around the 80% mark I settled more into the rhythm of the story and found myself beginning to really care about these characters, so by the end I was thoroughly engrossed in the story, but it was so frustrating for it to have taken that long to pull me in.

There is so much to love about this story though. Like I said, it has some truly gorgeous prose and some really profoundly beautiful phrases and quotes that I loved. I loved the content, the subject matter tackled, the two polar opposites we find in Ari and Dante. I loved their parents. Too often in young adult fiction parents are portrayed as awful, absent, or ignored completely. Here both Ari and Dante’s parents are complex individuals who round out the story and complete it in ways that would never be achieved if the focus was purely on the two boys. Their love for each other shines through, and each of them is individual bringing their own fears, hopes, and personalities to the narrative.

I think part of the problem for me was that the story is incredibly slow. There is no driving force to the plot to really propel it and keep the momentum going. It ambles, it pauses, it takes tangents, and at times that can be incredibly frustrating. I think that would have been less of a problem for me had I been reading this, but listening to someone else take these narrative rambles didn’t hold my interest.

I can see why people love this book. I can see why others have found it frustrating and hard to engage with. It isn’t a favourite for me – yet. I think this is one of those times I need to go away and forget it for a few years, then come back and read it rather than listen to it. 

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