Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. 9780316246576. June 2013. Gr 9-Adult.

Alex Woods is a unique and eminently interesting protagonist.  Yes, he deals with many of the same issues other teens deal with in YA novels, but in The Universe Versus Alex Woods, author Gavin Extence has enhanced Alex Woods with character flourishes and an emotional resonance that make Alex and his story charming, quirky, and memorable.

The tale begins with Alex, age 17, being detained at customs with an urn of cremated remains and a bunch of marijuana.  We then get to see the backstory unfold and lead to that moment, beginning with the revelation that Alex is a minor celebrity in England, after a meteor strikes him and puts him in a coma at the age of 10.  This is just one of the things that make him stand out, and standing out as a young boy is not always welcomed.  He is the victim of unrelenting bullying, as he is a logical-thinking, science-minded, bookish boy with a eccentric mother who is a tarot card reader in her Wiccan shop in town.  Alex is also socially awkward and suffers from random seizures resulting from his meteor injury.

Alex being bullied leads him to meet Mr. Peterson, an irascible Vietnam veteran who has become reclusive following the death of his wife.  An unlikely friendship blossoms over a mutual love of literature and music, as well as Mr. Peterson’s need for companionship and Alex’s need for a father figure.

While this may sound like a situation reminiscent of Tuesdays with Morrie or some other unlikely friendship story, it is not.  The story is emotionally strengthened by some heavy issues concerning illness, euthanasia, and dignity in the face of adversity. But the innocent voice of Alex is the star here, and through him we get a poignant account of personal growth and an exploration of the big questions we deal with in life.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods will make you think, charm you, and just might impact you like a meteor through your roof.

RyanBlogger: Ryan H.