My Rating: 4.5/5
In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys 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 hiding 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 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.
I’ve been looking forward to the sequel of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe since I first heard it was happening. The original novel, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, explores the friendship and budding romance between two teenage boys, Aristotle (“Ari”) and Dante. I’ve talked about that book here. Today, I’m going to review the sequel.
I inhaled this book over a long weekend and I’m currently suffering a book hangover. I can’t stop thinking about this novel, and don’t intend to any time soon.
Here’s my spoiler-free review.
An Emotional Rollercoaster
This stunning sequel captures the highs and lows of a new relationship. Compounded with the uncertainties that come with having a queer identity, the general nightmare that is one’s teenage years, and a devastating loss, Waters of the World is a novel of breathtaking ambition. Sensitively-written and emotionally profound, it’s a tearjerker that will make you laugh out loud.
I particularly loved the banter between Ari and Dante, and Ari and his newfound friends. The wit these characters shared really made the story sparkle with energy and humour, sort of like the literary equivalent of Magic Pops crackling candy. Scenes of quiet heartbreak followed chapters of humour and delight, and it all felt very true-to-life. Ari’s constant introspection on queerness, love, and being alive made the story feel extremely intimate. I felt I was right there with them, part of their friend group, watching it all unfold.
I’ve never read a book that better encapsulated the concept of an “emotional rollercoaster”.
It’s Better Than The Original
It’s rare that a prequel improves upon the original story. But Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe felt incomplete. I’m not the only one who thinks so. The author himself mentioned this in the acknowledgements of Waters of the World.
Aristotle and Dante came from somewhere inside me and I thought I was finished with them. But they were not finished with me. I came to feel very strongly that I had left too many things unsaid and I became very dissatisfied with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Somehow, it seemed too easy. Slowly and reluctantly, I started entertaining the idea to finish what I had started. But what was it that I had left unsaid? I decided that only the writing of the sequel would I discover the answer to that.Benjamin Alire Sáenz – “Acknowledgements” (Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World)
Set in the backdrop of the AIDS pandemic, Waters of the World does a fantastic job of positioning this love story within the context of its times, giving it a sense of urgency and desperation that complements Ari’s calculating and often dry narrative style.
What I appreciate the most about this story is watching these characters–especially Ari himself–grow up. You can see them turn into fledgling versions of their adult self, and it’s just beautiful.
This is the best book I’ve read in 2021.
I wish I was reading it for the first time all over again.