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on 18 December 2016
"I'm saying that death is the easiest thing in the world. It's the dying that's terrible." Alex Woods mouths these words about three-quarters into the novel, and they just about sum up most of the novel. I say most, because strangely enough, what takes centrestage for the first part of the novel is the fact that Alex Woods is a very special boy, who survives a direct meteorite hit (no kidding) with a brain injury that somehow stokes his interest in neurology and astrophysics.

With such a literally out-of-this-world setup for his main character, Extence turns next to the figure of American ex-Nam veteran living in Alex's little English village in Somerset, Mr Peterson, who forms an unexpected relationship with Alex, the latter something of an outcast and bully victim in school, his tabloid-star status notwithstanding. The novel then takes a deliberate and unexpected turn, and leads Alex to spout the above-mentioned lines. But it turns out that the second part of the novel is where the real story is, and on reflection, his meteor-boy episode seems like an unnecessary sensationalist sideshow. Given Extence's sure-handed mastery of weighty issues concerning the dignity of life and death, which is impressive for a young debut novelist, I felt there was no real need for the attempted wow-factor.

Nonetheless, what ensues is a touching yet funny account of Alex's and Mr Peterson's close friendship, in which Kurt Vonnegut plays a significant part - you just have to read the novel to find out how. The comedy sometimes stumbles but the story succeeds, largely in part because it is told through Alex's perspective, and Extence conveys Alex's earnest desire to do what is right in his attempt to explain away his fear by appealing to science and logic, masking his bewilderment and uncertainty.
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on 10 January 2016
The universe versus Alex Woods is story narrated by its socially awkward teenage protagonist (the words Asperger's syndrome is never used but he is definately somewhere on the spectrum) who is unfortunate enough to have an over-protective, eccentric mother and no other friends and family who then a quarter of the way through the book goes on to develop a mutually beneficial and unlikely father and son relationship with a stranger.

The 'Universe versus Alex Woods' owes a huge debt to Nick Hornby's 'About a boy.' We even have an older teenage girl character who is feisty, argumentative but ultimately lovable! Ellie McCrae anyone?.

Despite being highly derivative 'The Universe versus Alex Woods' is, in some respects, a well-written coming of age story. The author covers a host of serious issues - bullying, loneliness, suicide, illness etc - as seen through the eyes of a young boy extremely well.

My main problem with the book was simply that because the characterisations were so hackneyed - 'Aspy' narrator, grumpy older guy who secretly has a heart of gold, emo/goth teenage female friend who also secretly has a heart of gold, eccentric over-protective single mother - it took away from their believability and undermined the believability of the whole plot.
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on 25 August 2017
Alex Woods is not your average boy. Having been hit on the head by a meteorite, his mother (a single parent) is a spiritualist shopkeeper and his best friend is an old curmudgeonly neighbour he is somewhat different to his peers. I found myself rooting for Alex throughout the book.
It covers an array of emotions (made me laugh out loud many times but also made me cry). It also covers the hard hitting topic of assisted death.
I throughly enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to all.
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on 2 April 2017
I can't review this fully without giving too much away. Suffice to say, it's one of the best things I've read in a while. Alex is a very endearing character, especially if you're not the most mainstream of personalities yourself. The book takes us through a series of events from his childhood into early adulthood, narrated in his voice and the sense of being part of his development into a thoughtful and compassionate young adult is brilliantly, and poignantly done. Although I could see where the author was going with the storyline from an early stage, that didn't detract at all from how well the narrative was written and how well the subject matter was handled.

Read it. You won't regret it.
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on 11 April 2016
This is one of the best novels I have come across in a long time. Having read that the central character, Alex, had been struck on the head by a meteorite, I had decided that the story was going to be very far-fetched and, thus, I was going to quickly reject it. How wrong that was! I warmed to Alex immediately and enjoyed immensely the way that his character was developed. His relationships - and the interactions within these - were described in a very understated, quirky but natural manner that was nothing short of genius. There were times when I felt that I was actually there living the situations with the characters, even the minor ones. A number of topical issues were addressed throughout (eg. education, health, drug-taking euthanasia, the law, etc) but unobstrusively and in a way that fully enhanced the storyline. On some occasions, while reading, I felt that the author had perhaps gone a bit overboard with his detailed treatment of scientific and medical theory. This may, indeed, bore some readers. However, in retrospect, this actually helped to establish Alex's very complex character and thought processes. The story touches every human emotion and the reader should expect to laugh, cry, get angry, be frustrated, be shocked,................If you like to "escape" into a story and its characters, you won't be disappointed.
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on 16 March 2015
When a book opens with a seventeen year old protagonist beings stopped at Dover customs in the middle of what seems to be a nervous breakdown, with a large bag of marijuana and an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, you know there’s going to be some pretty interesting explanations coming up.
The Universe vs Alex Woods tells the story of Alex who, as a ten year old, was hit on the head by a tiny meteorite. This fantastically improbable accident lead to Alex developing epilepsy, missing a whole chunk of school and becoming kind of an oddball. Whilst running away from the school bullies one day, Alex meets Mr Peterson, a curmudgeonly Vietnam veteran. They bond over a mutual love of Kurt Vonnegut and become unlikely friends.
I absolutely fell for this book and it’s become one that I keep recommending to people, to the point where they say, ‘Yeah, it’s okay. You already told us how much you loved that book.’
Alex’s voice is very hard to sum up. His epilepsy caused him to miss a large portion of secondary school and as a result he is very awkward socially, a misfit, pretty geeky (and not in a good way). He doesn’t really get euphemisms or sarcasm and seems a little naive for his years, but despite this (or maybe because of it) at times he just seems to cut through to the truth of things. The chapter where Alex explains misuse of the word ‘gay’ is hands-down the funniest thing I read all year.
I really liked Alex’s mum - it was really refreshing to read about a single parent and someone who lives a very alternative lifestyle (she is a clairvoyant and owns a tarot card shop) who isn’t a flake or dropout. Mr Peterson was superb, as was Alex’s friendship with Ellie, the foul-mouthed
The storyline itself has many strands. It’s about the difficulty of social acceptance, coming of age, friendships, the right to die, all of which are dealt with sensitively and thought-provokingly, but also with humour and the ending was one of the most moving I’ve ever read.
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on 25 November 2014
This is a heart warming tale ideal for all ages and gender, and have to say I gave myself a hearty slap for not discovering it sooner. It is a well written and provocative tale of a young lad who befriends an older person and who ends up with responsibility for him.
Alex Cross is a somewhat geeky, awkward and pedantic teenager, who suffers a fractured skull, when a meteorite crashes through his mothers roof hitting him on the head and placing him in a coma. When he wakes up, he discovers he has a fractured skull that results in a neurological condition called temporal lobe epilepsy.
Eventually leaving hospital he is home schooled primarily, but then attends a special school where he is hounded a group of bullies who sensing his difference to the fellow pupils, with his enthusiasm to learn, confront Alex in the street of the village in Somerset where he lives with his Clairvoyant mother. Chasing Alex through a field, Alex crashes into the greenhouse of an elderly reclusive AmericanVietnam veteran named Isaac Peterson, who confronts the lad with a shotgun.
At first the situation is heaped in tension, with Mr Peterson eventually allowing the lad home, but is later ordered by his mother to do work for the elderly gent as recompense for the damage he'd caused.. The relationship remains aloof at first, but gradually warms, and introduces Alex to his reading collection of which comprises a set of Kurt Vonnegut books, which Peterson lends copies.
A friendship develops between them, and soon Alex visits him regulary, occasionally behaving like mother hen over Isaac's cannabis habit, and generally irritating the old man with Alex strict adherence to what he sees as right, but gradually warming to the lads conviction to his principles.
This friendship though is tested when Isaac is confronted with life changing decisions, which Isaac wishes to have control over, before the inevitable happens.
The book is a smashing tale of unconditional friendship between young and old, and the things learnt from one another. The ending is heart breaking but the closeness between them is shared until the end.
A great book that has to be read. Definitely one of my top 5 books read this year. 10/10
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on 2 July 2014
I read this book for my book group and enjoyed it so much that I have recommended it to another group! Despite the fact that I have never read any Kurt Vonnergut, this did not detract for the book for me. Alex writes heartbreakingly, but incredibly understatedly about being the 'weird' kid at school. There is always one child at every school with an odd Mum, one who is too clever for the other kids to cope with and one who has had something odd happen in his life but poor Alex is all of these rolled into one. The bullies line up but he finally outwits them and forms a wonderful bond with the crusty old Mr Peterson. Alex's style is incredibly matter of fact - the result, perhaps of his interest in and ambition towards science in all its forms.
Like a lot of children, Alex is able to relate to the Grandfather figure of his neighbour rather than his parent. This is probably especially true as his father is not just absent but not even known! His fey, leaning towards batty, Mother is fiercely protective of Alex, understandably, but he get the freedom to act as an adult and make real, heartbreaking, adult decisions when he is with Mr P. The final part of the book is never over sentimentalised but is told with such tender detail. I felt I would be really interested to hear how Alex got on in later life and if he achieved his goals.
Feel I now have to attempt at least one Vonnergut book!!!!
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on 19 May 2014
I can fully see why some people did not enjoy this book. Alex's narrative voice at times can seem a little flat - devoting large passages to reeling off seemingly unimportant trivia about meteorites and Kurt Vonnegut - and the story contains no real twist as the direction that the plot will take is spelled out very clearly in the first chapter.

Yet, for me, the novel was beautiful in execution. The events of Alex's life that lead up to his arrest sometimes seem disjointed (and many could still function as self-sustaining vignettes if removed from the novel) yet looking back I can now see how they all link together to form one cohesive whole. Although I have seen critiques that say that the meteorite plot is unimportant and thus should have been cut from the novel, I think it was unequivocally the event that lead up to his first meeting with Mr Peterson.

The story is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it is amusing to read. This helps add to the uplifting air of the novel and stops it from ever becoming too dark and depressing. Alex as a character was incredibly likable and I found his development through his friendship with Mr Peterson to be deeply touching. The subject of the latter half of the novel is a difficult one for an author to tackle but I felt that Extence approached it with the deepest of respect and the result was both memorable and thought provoking.

In conclusion, this novel moved me far more than I expected and has offered me much food for thought. It has also inspired me to go and hunt out some novels by Kurt Vonnegut, just so I can see if they speak to me in the same way as they did to Alex.
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on 7 May 2016
I know this book has been out for a while and I came across it by accident and I'm so glad I did. It was brilliant. I totally 'got' the humour that underlies the sadness of a life changing decision- assisted suicide.
Alex Woods is bullied at school, is socially inept but exceptionally academic with regards to science and physics. Alex was injured when part of a meteorite hit his head in a freak accident. This caused him to suffer from epilepsy and made him more of an outcast with his peers. He makes friends with a lonely American war veteran, Isaac Peterson, who is a widower. The developing friendship is the nub of the plot.
Very funny and really moving in equal measure.
A must read.
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