Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Benjamin Alire Sáenz's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
Brief Biography of Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Benjamin Alire Sáenz was the fourth of seven children, and grew up on a small farm in New Mexico. After graduating high school, he spent the next two decades studying and earning a variety of different degrees, including in philosophy, theology, English, and creative writing. He spent several years as a priest in the early 1980s, but ultimately left the order. Sáenz began to study writing in 1985, and started publishing books of poetry in 1992. His first novel, Carry Me Like Water, received rave reviews and won the 1996 Southwest Book Award. After coming out as gay in the late 2000s and seeking a divorce from his wife of 15 years, Sáenz began writing about the LGBT experience in his novels. These novels, including Aristotle and Dante, have been some of his most critically successful works.
Historical Context of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
The late 1980s were busy years for both gay rights and AIDS activism, something that would’ve greatly affected the lives of gay teens like Ari and Dante. In 1987, when the novel begins, the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place. Police estimate that almost half a million people marched. At this event, Cleve Jones’s NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (a community art project memorializing the lives of people who died of AIDS) was displayed for the first time. Illinois (where Dante spends a school year) was the first U.S. state to decriminalize homosexuality in 1962, while Texas, where Dante and Ari spend most of the novel, didn’t follow suit until 2003 when forced to do so to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. Gay marriage, meanwhile, didn’t become legal on a national level until 2015, when people Ari and Dante’s age would’ve been almost 50 years old.
Other Books Related to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Many of Sáenz’s young adult novels tackle issues of Mexican American identity, sexuality, or both, and many of his protagonists are also precocious intellectuals like Ari and Dante. These include The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
and Last Night I Sang to the Monster
. Other novels that delve into the intersection of cultural identity and sexuality include Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel
by Sarah Farizan, Funny Boy
by Shyam Selvadurai, and The Buddha of Suburbia
by Hanif Kureishi. Aristotle and Dante also joins the growing genre of LGBTQ teen lit, which includes novels like Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
, Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary
, and Boy Meets Boy
by David Levithian.
Key Facts about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Full Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
When Written: 2010-2011
Where Written: El Paso, Texas
When Published: 2012
Literary Period: Contemporary
Genre: Young Adult Novel, Bildungsroman
Setting: El Paso, Texas, 1987-1988
Climax: At the Mendoza family meeting, Ari admits that he’s gay and loves Dante.
Antagonist: Julian Enriquez and his cronies, homophobia
Point of View: First person
Extra Credit for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe