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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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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 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 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 26 May 2013
Unfortunately this novel was the subject of a bidding war which means that Hodder and Stoughton have had their publicity machine playing at full blast. On this occasion though the hype is not far from the truth because this is a very good novel and extraordinary as a first effort. I did find it heavily derivative, you can clearly hear not just Mark Haddon but also David Mitchell and Sue Townsend. Still, Extence has his own voice and he writes beautifully. I thought it odd that he gave away the ending at the very start and wonder why he made that decision, because the book was clearly very carefully structured. I am sure he will be explaining it at the numerous book signings that Hodder are making him take on. The result was that I found the last third wearisome, though most other readers didn't, given the rave reviews. Extence is certainly one to watch, a big talent.
Your enjoyment of this book will be enhanced if you're into Vonnegut, which I'm not.
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on 21 December 2013
A compelling tale that is told in a wonderfully easy manner that envelopes the reader with the simplicity of a blameless bystander! The tale evolves methodically and with just the correct and proper pace, allowing the events to occur in a well thought out series of sketches bringing together a central theme, that progresses to satisfy and thought provoke continually until the final word. It is a story of human nature at its most basic providing a most eloquent insight in understanding the needs and sharing that become so complicated in a most unnecessary way, when honesty and compassion are involved. Well worth reading and well worth passing on to your friends ( and even those you don't care too much for?) I will look forward to reading more from Gavin Extence.
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on 6 March 2014
I liked this book, I didn't love it. Alex is endearing in all his weirdness. He is the only person I got the feeling I got to know as people are: contradictions entangled in one person and his struggle to come to terms with them. The rest I thought was rather flat. Maybe it is because of the language, there were no sentences I underlined. Flat language often equals flat story. Oef this sounds more severe than I meant it to be. Well attribute it to me being Dutch, we are a crude bunch. So let's end on a positive note: I really liked the adults surrounding Alex in their kindness and their effort to take him seriously.
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on 10 July 2016
Just Finnish ed this book, the first I've read by this author. Made me cry. Basically it's about a teenage misfit boy, who strikes up an unlikely bond with an older American man, and their journey. I enjoyed this story very much. When n reading, Alex reminded me of an intelligent autistic Adrian mole. I laughed, I cried. Worth a read.
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on 24 November 2013
This book was chosen for my reading group and it was a real hit.
A story about a lonely young man who befriends a lonely old man. It's a touching tale of friendship that also covers some very interesting subjects. I loved the amount of science in the book, I felt a little better educated after reading it! The two main characters were very likeable, Alex seems to have some Asperger's type disorder although this is never discussed. I was glad that the potential love interest between Alex and his school friend wasn't further developed, I think it would have been too contrived and too easy to do. It read better that it stayed as it was.
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on 22 September 2016
The character of Alex was likable and believable, his views and opinions on life were spot on . I didn't realise that this was a story in favour of assisted suicide, and really that's only part of the story, it is more a story of relationships and how not being part of the crowd can be a positive thing and lead to far more enriching and fulfilling relationships. This story made me cry, the beautiful poignant scene in Switzerland was perfect.
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on 20 May 2017
When I started reading this book I realised I had read it before, but it was just as good a read the second time around. The central character, a nerdy boy who has been subject to a freak accident, which ultimately results in epilepsy, is unusual and quirky but believable. The other characters are well-written and interesting. The book progresses unexpectedly to a fascinating exploration of assisted suicide.
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