ARC Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

3A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing…

Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

My Rating:5 cupcakes

When describing this book to my parents, I noted that it reminded me of “a mixture of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Pixar’s Up, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.” While that may seem like a strange combination, elements from all of these works are seamlessly combined to create a humorous, poignant novel that will leave a lasting impression.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods is written as a first person retrospective narrative in the style of Kurt Vonnegut, whose works play a rather important role in the novel: the reader is immediately exposed to the action at the end of Alex’s story, and is then brought back to the beginning to see how the events leading up to the present situation influenced and shaped his personality and worldview. At first glance,it is a coming of age story about a young boy, Alex, who lives a very unconventional life: he doesn’t know who his father is, his mother reads Tarot cards, he is a bit of a celebrity after having been struck by a meteorite when he was young, and his best friend is a Vietnam veteran. However, it is also a thought-provoking work of fiction that deals with many heavy subjects – such as bullying, free will, life, death, euthanasia and morality – in a respectful and meaningful way.

The protagonist, Alex, is a logical, naive, introverted young man with a compelling, authentic voice. There is a lot of social disconnect between him and his peers, due to the fact that he enjoys learning, voices his opinions – regardless of their appropriateness – and tends to go off on many tangents. As a biology student, I found all of the detailed information that Alex provided in regards to his scientific learning to be very interesting (which, from what I’ve seen, places me in the minority on that count). It is hard not to empathize with Alex, whose childlike innocence and unique worldview make him quite easy to like.

The friendship between Alex and Mr. Peterson is very much like that of Russell and Carl in Up: a young boy befriends a grouchy old man who lost his wife, and eventually the two begin to consider each other as a family of sorts. I loved watching this friendship grow and develop. Though it was filled with difficulties, the influence that this friendship had on both parties was quite powerful – especially towards the end where it is shown just how much they are willing to do for each other. At the beginning of the novel, Alex is a boy, but with Mr. Peterson’s help, he becomes a man with a heightened sense of integrity and a new outlook on life.

Overall, this was an excellent novel that will leave you with many ethical and existential questions, and will inspire you to read some of Kurt Vonnegut’s works.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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