Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Summary and Analysis of Letters on a Page


Gina Navarro, a classmate of Ari's, asks him how he was injured, which Ari finds kind of annoying. Gina and Suzie keep bothering him though, and so Ari tells them the truth, which, because of its improbability, neither Gina nor Suzie believe. Since they’re in his English class, he can’t seem to escape them and their persistent questions about his life. Nevertheless, he manages to use humor to prevent people from getting too nosy. He goes home that day and writes in his journal about Dante teaching him to swim over the summer, but then tears out the page.

The second day at school, Ari meets a girl named Ileana, who comes up to him and writes her name on his cast. Soon after is Ari’s birthday, and his parents do in fact get him his car: a 1957 cherry-red Chevy pickup truck with chrome fenders and hubcaps. Every day, Ari begins to get up in the morning and hobble his way over to the car to sit in. He tells his mom that the first place he’s going to take it is the desert to go see the stars. His mom expresses approval and asks after the name on his cast, to which Ari replies that it’s from a girl who is too pretty for him. That night, he has a bad dream where he runs over Dante in his new red truck because he’s looking at Ileana instead of the road, and he feels extremely guilty.

One day when Ari gets back from school, he finds two letters from Dante waiting for him on his bed. Dante confesses that there are things he loves about Chicago and that he’s gone to parties and tried alcohol and weed; Chicago is really different, but he still misses Ari. At a party, he meets a girl named Emma and they kiss for some time, but Dante isn’t sure what to do about the situation. Ari starts to think about what it would have been like for Dante to kiss a girl, then starts wondering what it would be like to kiss a girl, period, but quickly cuts off that line of thought. He decides to think about his brother instead, and remembers a time that the two of them were together in a dream, a dream that turns out to be a memory. Ari decides that he is going to try and kiss Ileana, but hesitates to reply to Dante’s letters, choosing to write in his journal instead. He also decides that he is going to find out why his brother is in prison, and that he doesn’t need Dante’s help to do so.

Dante continues to write to Ari and says that he’s trying not to waste time wondering why Ari won’t respond but instead will just keep writing to him. He shares that his favorite thing to do besides riding the El is to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, where he says that there’s a painting called Nighthawks that reminds him of Ari. He wishes Ari well on his recovery from the accident because he feels that it’s ridiculous that Ari has insisted that they can’t talk about it. He also opens up and tells Ari that he misses him, but says that he won’t tell him that anymore.

Ari’s life continues. He leaves a note for Ileana in her locker. He goes to the library to try and hunt for newspaper clippings about his brother. He takes off his casts, and as all the dead skin is coming off, Ari realizes that he’s going through a period of transition. Afterward, he comes home and takes a walk, wandering towards Dante’s house when he discovers a dog in the street. He spends some time petting the dog, then thinks about his life and Dante and his father and Vietnam on his walk home, only to discover that the dog has followed him. His dad catches them outside, and they decide to keep her (even though his mom doesn’t like dogs in the house).

Ari finally writes to Dante. He tells him that the casts have come off and that he has a new dog named Legs, in honor of him meeting her the day that he got his legs back. She’s a beautiful dog, who was told to stay in the yard, but who has quickly made a home instead of their household. Ari confesses that there’s not much else to say, but then remembers to mention his new Chevy, and shares that he’s started taking driving lessons from his dad. After the first lesson, they park the car and his dad starts to smoke a cigarette. Ari asks if his dad ever did something similar with his brother, but the question makes his father clam up and Ari makes sure not to bring it up again. Ari tells Dante that he feels like he upsets other people all the time, but that he doesn’t mean to—it’s just that sometimes he wants people to share, but doesn’t want to share back, so Dante shouldn’t be worried if Ari doesn’t write as much.

There’s not much Ari is up to besides trying to kiss Ileana, looking for information about his brother, and hanging out with his dog. In the mornings, he and his father have driving lessons, but they never talk about their lives: only about driving. He takes his mom out driving one day and tries to make his life uncomplicated. But inside, Ari is still having a rough time and feels very confused. Ari gets his license. One night while his parents are out, he decides to go out and get someone to buy him some alcohol. He drives home and parks his car in the driveway, gets drunk, and (for the first time in a long time) doesn’t have any dreams when he goes to bed.

Winter break rolls around, and Ari discovers a folder on his brother in his mother’s things that he decides to return to. Dante gives him a mini pair of tennis shoes to hang on his dashboard for Christmas. The day after, Dante calls and thanks Ari for his Christmas gift—an art book featuring Dante’s favorite painting, The Raft of the Medusa, which Ari brushes off, saying that it was easy to pay for because of his job. He plans to spend New Year’s Eve with his family, but Gina and Susie come by and invite him to a party, and this time, he actually goes. Ileana finally kisses him.

The school year continues. Ari doesn’t open the folder, wanting his mother to tell him instead of sneaking around to find the information. He asks Ileana out but then learns that she has a boyfriend; soon, she drops out of school after becoming pregnant and getting married. Dante keeps writing to him, writing about things as sensitive as masturbation. In one of his letters, he comments that has stopped kissing Emma after she admitted that she’s kissing him to make another boy jealous and expresses doubt that Dante even likes girls. They remain friends though. Dante says that he wants to go home to El Paso, and his parents rib him a bit about it since he was so against it initially. Dante says that he’s afraid they won’t be friends when he gets back because of his orientation, and tells Ari that he’s decided to tell his parents. He says that Ari shouldn’t feel pressured to be his friend, but jokes that it would be weird not to be friends with the guy who saved his life.

On the last day of school, Gina and Susie come over to Ari’s house and they go out driving after getting some alcohol from Gina’s cousin, then lay out under the stars in the flatbed of Ari’s truck. Gina and Susie talk and Ari wonders at how communication seems so much easier for girls. He wonders what it would be like to love a girl and the three of them muse about how it’s too bad that they can’t lie out under the stars for forever.


Gina and Suzie are our first introduction to characters Ari's age other than Dante. Despite Ari's annoyance with them, it's fair to assume that they consider themselves to be Ari's friends, even though this is a conclusion that Ari himself hasn't come to yet. Once Ari is back in school, however, the clear line between the summer and the rest of his life asserts itself through his responses to people who ask about the accident. This, combined with his refusal to mention Dante when talking about what he did over the summer, shows that he is very unwilling to share Dante with others, even through stories.

Nevertheless, he still feels very attached to Dante. His nightmare in which he runs over Dante because he got distracted by Ileana symbolizes Ari's worry that their friendship might be jeopardized by his relationship with Ileana. Considering that he later pursues Ileana, it is likely that this reflects, unbeknownst to Ari, Ari's romantic feelings towards Dante. While Gina and Suzie pose no threat to Ari and Dante's relationship, a part of Ari understands that their relationship would be fundamentally changed if he were to pursue Ileana—an insight that is metaphorically signaled in his dream by him running over Dante. Some part of Ari feels that these relationships cannot co-exist, despite the fact that Dante hasn't asked for a nonplatonic relationship—which might suggest that Ari subconsciously does not view his and Dante's relationship as platonic in the first place.

Given Ari's discomfort with emotion, it is understandable, then, that in this context, he is reluctant to answer Dante's letters. Dante's letters are consistent with Dante in person in that they share almost to the point of oversharing; Ari remains true to form in being hesitant to respond. But Dante, as usual, doesn't need Ari to communicate in the same way in order to communicate with him. Just like over the summer, Dante is comfortable with their differences and tries to move past them, even if it's somewhat difficult for him. Ari's decision to take longer to reply also reflects his style of absorbing information and then thinking about it for a long while before acting—as demonstrated by how he wonders about his brother but doesn't confront his parents, or how he wants his dad to open up but doesn't ever ask him for details.

Ari is explicit about this in his letter but still reaches out. However, this means that the conflict that keeps building inside Ari over the last months of the year doesn't get addressed because Ari keeps it all to himself. When he gets his license, the first thing he does is to go out into the desert by himself, something that he does frequently throughout the rest of the book. The car, for Ari, represents the chance to be independent and see the world around him without having to rely on other people. It fulfills the curiosity that the reader first notices at the beginning of the book, where Ari and Dante make up stories about the people sitting on the bus. The curiosity has limits, though, as demonstrated by the fact that Ari refuses to open the folder about his brother.

Ari and Dante's Christmas gift exchange proves that they remain close in spite of their geographical distance and that they understand each other well, giving gifts that represent something important for the receiver. Dante's gift of the shoes brings together a symbol of freedom for Dante with a symbol of freedom for Ari; Ari's gift parallels the art book that Dante gave Ari's parents when he first came over and shows that he pays close attention to what Dante writes. But even though there's an enormous amount of understanding between them, Dante is still wary of what his confession and identity might mean for their friendship, especially since it could have social repercussions for Ari as well as Dante.

As the year comes to a close, Ari has managed to pick up two new friends—Gina and Suzie. Ironically, Ari's deliberately pursued relationship with Ileana was unsuccessful, but his accidental friendship with Gina and Suzie persists. His wonder about how communication can be so easy for girls speaks to how much gender dynamics cause Ari to struggle to form relationships with other people. As he said earlier in the novel, he doesn't relate to boys very much. He doesn't love Ileana and wonders what it would be like to love a girl at all; he wants to see the world through their eyes because he finds his own eyes to be insufficient.