Book Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

The Universe Versus Alex WoodsThe Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
Release date: June 25th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★★★☆

In case you didn’t know, in secondary school—especially in the early years of secondary school—diversity is not celebrated. In secondary school, being different is the worst crime you can commit. Actually, in secondary school, being different is pretty much the only crime you can commit.

At one point or another, most teenagers believe the universe is pitted against them. For Alex Woods, that seems to be the case—literally—as a chunk of meteorite crash-lands through the roof of his home and knocks him unconscious. Alex survives, but not without side-effects. In the aftermath, Alex gains the attention of media and develops an onset of epileptic seizures, but it is not just Alex’s fame, medical history, or the scar on his head that marks him an outcast. Wildly curious and interested in science coupled with social awkwardness makes him a target for school bullies. It is these bullies, however, who chase Alex right into Mr. Peterson’s yard. What starts as a rocky, uncertain relationship between the thirteen year old and Vietnam war veteran steadily turns into a life-altering friendship.

Now, at age seventeen, Alex once again finds himself at the center of media hype, but for different reasons entirely. His actions have set the country in uproar, and upon stopping at customs, he is found with 113 grams of marijuana and a full urn of ashes. Told from the viewpoint of the naïve yet exceptionally perceptive and smart Alex, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a clever coming-of-age story. It’s a novel that comes full-circle, beginning and returning to the specific event which opens the story. Similar to that of a memoir, the pages in between reveal Alex’s reflections—from the moment the universe collides into Alex’s life to his friendship with Mr. Peterson and beyond.

Alex presents an endearing naïvety by nature, yet this is one quality he continually grows from. An insightful and observant individual, Alex does not lack keen awareness, and when that clarity is ever clouded, he fights to understand. He is more than smart, looking at the world through an innocent’s eyes—a common feature among coming-of-age stories. Alex is intelligent, evolving in character, odd in terms of typical teenagers, and quite the saint. Above all of Alex’s qualities, however charming, it is his belief in doing “the right thing” that wins me over. No matter what consequences may result, fear does not seem to phase Alex. Instead, he readily accepts what he believes he must do and any punishment that comes with it. In this respect, he displays valor—a characteristic that not only earns my respect, but makes him a valuable person to know.

“Still, not all scars are bad, Alex. Some are worth hanging on to, if you know what I mean.”

I believe that Alex is the heart of this novel, as the story rests and depends on his musings. It’s centered on the events in his life during a certain span of years, or rather: The Universe Versus Alex Woods is Alex’s story thus far, and in part of this story lives Mr. Peterson. The friendship that grows between the two characters becomes a turning point, as both Alex and Mr. Peterson affect one another through irreversible change—and for the better. Some of the book’s most gripping scenes prosper from this unexpected but somehow ordinary relationship, and much of the growth this book experiences stems from these parts. It’s a poignant aspect: one teenage outcast and one reclusive war veteran who find each other, connecting through their obstacles, Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, and perhaps through loneliness.

In the long history of human affairs, common sense doesn’t have the greatest track record.

The story Gavin Extence has written is a blast of fresh air: compelling, profound for its thoughtfulness, and touching with a sweet twinge of humor. I find that the charm and uniqueness  Gavin has instilled into his novel is difficult for me to communicate. It’s simple: I fear that I will ruin the plot for anyone who has yet to read this story. I fear that by saying more, I will remove the story’s capability to affect prospective readers. I can only encourage others to pick this book up and discover Alex’s story for themselves.

At a surface glance, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is the coming-of-age tale about a peculiar boy growing up under even more peculiar circumstances. This story, however, runs deeper than that. It’s thought-provoking literature that displays the small wonders in this vast, complex universe. At the same time, it handles expansive issues centering on life, death, personal right and responsibility. What I appreciate about Gavin’s way of dealing with these facets to the story is this: they are what they are—nothing more and nothing less. Gavin’s aim is not to persuade the reader of anything, but to let the story unfold and allow the reader to get lost its wonder. For a debut, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is immensely likable and it’s one that I won’t soon forget, and I suspect that its appeal will withstand decades to come.

The longest-lived of these particles could exist for only a few hundred-millionths of a second before decaying; the shortest-lived were so unstable that their existences couldn’t even be ‘observed’ in a conventional sense. They popped into being and were gone in the same tiny fraction of an instant, so quickly that no instrument had yet been invented that was sensitive enough to register their presence, which could only be inferred post mortem. But the more I thought about this, and the more I thought about how old the universe was, and how old it would become before it suffered its final heat death—when all the stars had gone out and the black holes had evaporated and all the nucleons decayed, and nothing could exist but the elementary particles, drifting through the infinite darkness of space—the more I thought about these things, the more I realized that all matter was akin to those exotic particles. The size and scale of the universe made everything else unimaginably small and fleeting.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette Book Group/Redhook for providing a free copy of The Universe Versus Alex Woods in exchange for my honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday #13

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly meme hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish. Click  here to read more and join!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Click here to read more and join!

This week’s TTT concerns top 10 books I’ve read in 2013. I’ve read under my usual number of books this year, and I might normally have a difficult time choose just 10 books. 2013, however, has not been my best year for reading–it started off well enough, and then I ran smack into one- and two-star books back-to-back-to-back. It frustrated me and stole a bit of my love for reading. I have read more books that aren’t brilliant but I do like, yet those aren’t enough to make my top ten. It’s only recently that I’m regaining enjoyment through some wonderful books, and I have some enticing reads planned out for the next few weeks. For now, though, here are my favorites of 2013:

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I am the Messenger

1. I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
After reading the heart-wrenching tear-jerker, The Book Thief, I wasn’t too sure that Zusak could impress me as much as he did with his 2006 bestseller. Whether he did or didn’t is hardly the point, as I don’t believe the two novels can compare against each other. The two books are profoundly different, and the one similarity they share is the person who wrote them: the wonderfully talented Markus Zusak. I am the Messenger punched my emotions all around, and at the same time, the story of Ed’s journey and personal growth is both touching and inspiring. If you haven’t read The Book Thief, or if you  have and didn’t enjoy it, I highly recommend giving this a try.

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Teeth

2. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
For nearly a month, I did a little dance around the bookstore with Teeth only to sit it back on the shelf. I wanted to buy it–not just read it, but physically own it–yet I had little knowledge of the plot. All for the best, I’d say. I did succumb to the strong urge to buy Hannah Moskowitz’s book, and once I had it I read it and didn’t stop until I hit the last page. It’s gritty, it’s beautiful, and it’s bleak. Some might call the end bittersweet… I think it’s just sad, and it still gets my emotions wound up months after finishing the book. Good on you, Moskowitz — I look forward to reading the rest of her novels!

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Siege and Storm

3. Siege & Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Us Grisha fans waited a year to see this book’s publication, but how I wanted it to come out sooner–and desperately. Shadow & Bone remains one of my top favorite reads from 2012, just as Siege & Storm will remains one of my favorites from this year. Leigh Bardugo surprised me senseless and silly with how much growth both the characters and storyline undergo, and my one regret in reading Siege & Storm is reading it too soon and too quickly. Why? Because now all I care for is third (and–sob–last) Grisha book, Ruin & Rising, which does not come out until 2014.

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Saving Francesca

4. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
I’m disappointed that it took me this long to read a Melina Marchetta book. I did attempt Finnikin of the Rock–and I admit that just might not be the book for me–but it is Saving Francesca that became my first Marchetta read. It’s  heart-warming and heart-wrenching all at once, and it was well worth the moments my eyes teared up–and it is certainly worth reading for all the moments it made me laugh.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go

5. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness
If anyone is searching for a gripping novel, this is for you. It’s an addicting page-turner where there is no place to pause.  The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the best, if not the best, young adult dystopian novel I have read. Danger and risks await at every page and lurk in the margins, but more than that, I love the writing and I love the characters. Anyone who’s read this will understand my restless upset over Manchee, but I also enjoy the path that Viola’s and Todd’s friendship take. The villains are nothing but insane (and insanely evil), and more than anything, they are indestructible. (What is up with that?) Yikes.

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Warm Bodies

6. Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) by Isaac Marion
No, I still have not seen the movie–but at least I read the book! I’m not sure where Marion will take this in the sequel, whether it will contain the same characters or introduce an entirely set that live in the same universe. Either way, Warm Bodies surprised me with its lucid eloquence and its equally intelligent characters. For a zombie, R shows keen perception of his environment and complex thought, and I enjoyed reading his journey of self-exploration and finding love.

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Dr. Bird's Advice

7. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
I took an instant liking toward Rosko’s protagonist, James Whitman. He’s endearing without trying, and he’s likable on an adorable level where I’d hug him if he were real. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets tells the story of sixteen year old James and his struggle against depression, anxiety, and life itself. (Oh, and his therapist is an imaginary pigeon.) Books of this nature are typically “gritty” and mood-dampeners, but Rosko’s novel takes after the humor found in Ned Vizinni’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story. The story is not without flaws, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless–and I intend to give it another go this summer.

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Alanna

8. Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1) by Tamora Pierce
I finally did it: I read a Tamora Pierce novel! Alanna: The First Adventure makes the one and only Pierce novel I have read, but not for long. I have the rest of the series on hand, and–if I’m lucky–I can move onto Pierce’s next series within the next few weeks. Alanna is a strong and determined character who makes an excellent role model for young readers. I wasn’t blown away by the writing or world-building, but it did entertain me — I’m eager to see where Alanna’s journey leads (and I’m excited to read through more of Tamora Pierce’s series)!

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Alex Woods

9. The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
The Universe Versus Alex Woods is the most recent book I have finished, and my review is scheduled to post soon — it’s a wonderful coming-of-age story about the very peculiar Alex Woods and his friendship with war veteran Mr. Peterson. The writing sits on the slow but steady side of pacing, yet I find the novel smart like its narrator (even if he is young and naïve).

 

Which of your 2013 reads make the top of your list?

In My Mailbox #6

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Story Siren. Click here to read more and participate!

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Story Siren. Click here to read more and participate!

Well, I had hoped I would have my Showtime review posted by now, and instead I let my blog grow quiet for a week. My mind’s been stuck in a haze, and while Midnight Coffee Monster sat in its own stagnant puddle of silence, I became lazy. For once, classes and schoolwork didn’t interfere with blogging and reading — a first? I think so.

Now I’m a couple days behind, which I hope to catch up on as I busy myself today with workworkwork. Let’s see if I can get out of this funk before it worsens and I de-evolve into another bedblob. Doing nothing became my newest hobby, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t resist the allure of Shiny New Books — which is something.

Sense & Sensibility and The Outsiders

I am in the habit of frequenting Barnes & Nobel for a couple of reasons. For one, I not only live and go to school less than ten minutes away from the store, but it is the closest bookstore around. Unless I wish to venture across town or walk into Borders, which is located in the mall and — I’m sad to report — has a rather sad book selection. I also like to plop myself in front of B&N’s bargain-priced books and fancy buying them all. I wouldn’t dare, but I do love the covers — they’re hardback and pretty eye candy. Naturally, I’m prone to snatching one for myself now and then.

I have heard lots of praise surrounding Austen’s Emma–which will probably be my next Austen-buy–but the itch to own Sense & Sensibility has bothered me for a long time, and I’m happy to finally own a copy.

I saw the movie years ago — not horribly long ago, but long enough to where I can hardly recall the movie at all. What I do remember is that I enjoyed it, and I’ve wanted to read the novel ever since I spaced out during a class read-along in seventh grade. Hopefully I can fit The Outsiders as one of my reads this year!

…Oops. Wait a minute. Don’t I already have this book? Didn’t I already order this? Yeah, I did — my mistake! Like I said, my mind has been fogged this week. What I wanted to pre-order is Robin Bridges The Morning Star, which is the third and final book to her Katerina trilogy. This book here is the second in the series, which I have yet to read but already own. I have to skulk on down to the bookstore and hope there are no problems with a return, but either way: I will have my pre-order!

A Monster Calls

  • A Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd, and illustrated by Jim Kay

I bought a copy! For myself! I have A Monster Calls! I read this last year and it quickly became a book that I can’t separate from. I can read this a million times over, and the charm that Ness, Dowd, and Kay created won’t ever grow faint or wither. Not for me, anyway. I will give away one copy once my review is written up, and I sincerely hope that whoever I send it to will cherish this story as much as I do.

netgalley

These last three are from NetGalley, which I’ve had an account with for some time and only now am I taking advantage of it. NetGalley sent me invitations to read the first two, and the third is one I requested. (I’m a bit excited for Gavin Extence’s book especially!) I’m notorious for spending ample time working through ebooks, so I expect a challenge — hopefully I won’t take too long. If there is one thing I took from my last digital book, it’s that it is possible to lasso my attention span so long as I’m even slightly interested.

And that’s a wrap. Share your latest bookish finds with me!

Raya
xo