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Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World is the unexpected sequel – since the book’s author, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, hadn’t originally planned a follow-up – to the beloved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Yet it reads like the perfect addition to the series, developing on the warmth, depth of feeling and emotional beats of the first book in nuanced and more complex ways.

Following Ari’s acceptance that his love for Dante is more than friendship, Dive into the Waters of the World picks up right where they left off, in the back of Ari’s truck in the desert. The dry, open space was very much like Ari in Discover; alone in the open. Dante became the rain that nourished him and allowed him to flourish. From that point, everything changed. In Dive, Ari calls into question all that he’s assumed about himself and those around him – the stories and portraits he’d created in his head, the assumptions he took to be true –  and begins to dismantle them. The first domino in the row has been pushed and now he can feel the knock-on effect.

Dive takes place over the course of the next year, his and Dante’s final one at school. On the verge of going to college and only just now finding each other, they have to balance savouring their time together and coming to terms with the deadline that will almost certainly see them going their separate ways. But by leaving their youth behind, the wider world comes rushing to them. In the late 80’s, that means these two young gay men are finding their sexual selves as the AIDS crisis unfolds around them. Something they don’t want to have to deal with but which nags at their minds is: What if?

Ari’s journey in Dive centers on his relationships with those around him. Where he was isolated and almost completely interior in Discover, he uses a newfound courage to open himself up to his family and classmates. He learns to connect with his father, makes friends with those he thought hated him, and he gains a deeper understanding of who the adults in his life really are. It’s teenage thinking. It’s the realisations of youth. It’s the other shoe dropping at last. Which isn’t to dismiss or belittle it. We all go through profound periods of growth and when you’re coming-of-age, that time is the most emotional and tumultuous. It’s what forges us from formless potential into a beacon of energy.

There are a million things to say about Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World. There are all kinds of words that will live inside you, more ingrained and clearer than before, after reading it. Words like innocence, hope, courage, love, care and sorrow. Tears come as easily as gasps and giddy giggles when reading this book. There is so much to adore about Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s sequel, which is just as magical and even more heart wrenching than the book that came before. It’s an utterly transformative YA novel – one that’s sure to be a much loved companion to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

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★★★★★

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World is published by Simon & Schuster Children’s on 12 October 2021

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