Rereading “Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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There has been a requirement, for quite some time, among the LGBT readers for books about LGBT characters to have interesting characters and  a happy ending. For those who don’t belong to the community it probably looks absurd: why would a book need to have a happy ending?  The ending should fit the story. The truth is, even though I studied literature for years and know a thing or two about the logical conclusion of the story, I too need these books to have a happy ending. In a world where it’s still very much possible for your family members to turn their back on you because you love who you love different works of fiction are often life saving.

Aristotle and Dante are boys like the ones from old movies. You don’t get to see boys like them on TV anymore. They are honest, they laugh, they hug, they talk, they run, they look at the stars. They live in the world full of violence and they stay kind. They care about their families. They forgive.

We teach young boys to be tough and to seek revenge. We want them to be strong and to hide what they feel until they forget how important it is to just be good, until they are so full of rage that they end up hating the world. But what if they choose to be kind?

There’s not a boy in the world like Aristotle Mendoza. He is a lonely child. He feels like he can’t fit anywhere. He doesn’t talk much because he can’t find the right words. His parents are wonderful but they keep too many secrets and it kills him inside. Ari is a Mexican-American boy, which is so very important because he’s not as close as he wants to be to his heritage and when he talks about pieces of him that are missing you can’t help but feel like that’s one very important piece.

There’s not a boy in the world quite like Dante Quintana. He is kind. He loves his parents. He helps the lonely child in the pool who can’t swim. He loves to run around with no shoes. He loves to draw. Dante is also a Mexican-American boy and he too feels like he’s not connected enough to others like him, even more than Ari. And Dante is also a boy who loves to kiss other boys and he chooses to be honest about it, as much as he can be.

This is a story about boys who find friendship where there’s not much hope for it. Together they discover, bit by bit, the secrets of the world, about love and forgiveness, about violence and sacrifice.

There’s something really important about Ari talking about missing something in his life. He may seem like a cold and distant child with a terrible past but he’s also ready to give his life for a friend, without thinking. On the outside he looks like a teenager slowly growing up not to trust the world but there’s a whole world inside him, told in simple sentences and stories. There’s nothing simple about the way Ari thinks and acts. We, the readers, keep picking bits and pieces of his life to create an incredibly complex story of a young boy who wants to find a place in the world which is often too cruel to children.

Dante is so much more than his sexuality. In fact, the way he deals with wanting to kiss boys more than girls may look like a simple thing in the beginning. But his story is also a story of solitude and his life is also a life in an unforgiving world.

The truth is – Ari and Dante need each other. They understand what is like to feel different in more than one way and their story is a story about friendship and love.

Don’t be confused. This is very much a love story.

I’ve heard many complains from people who claim that Ari doesn’t “look” gay and “suddenly” falls in love with his friend. Many think of this story as unrealistic and “more a story about friendship than a love story”. But these people are all probably straight.

There’s something very relatable about Ari picking up small bits of reality to create an image of the world that he can finally understand. It’s called growing up and it’s also a coming out story.

There’s nothing simple and realistic about getting to know your true self. There’s nothing simple about figuring out that you love your best friend. There’s also nothing worse than hating the world around you because you can’t find your place in it, because it feels like you can’t really fit in it or understand it. Ari’s story is incredible because it’s about celebrating all the amazing things about life and somehow, being a boy who loves a boys fits in that life perfectly.

There’s a terrible need in the world to write tragic gay stories and when a story like this one amazingly doesn’t respond to that need, the world doesn’t really know what to do with that.

Ari and Dante’s story may very well be the most important coming out story ever written. We should all celebrate it.

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