By Gavin Extence
Redhook, $26.00, 407 pages
Gavin Extence, debut British novelist, introduces the universe to his unique protagonist Alex in The Universe Verses Alex Woods. At the age of ten, cerebral single-minded Alex turns instantly into a celebrity when a piece of the universe attacks him. He is hit by a meteor and survives. The circumstances of his life and the people he comes into contact with all shape him into the compassionate, if still slightly awkward young man he is at the end of the tale. This is an incredibly enriching and moving novel that should speak to a wide section of readers.
What makes the story so engaging are the people who love Alex and ultimately teach him to move outside of his own mind. His mother, so unlike himself, is a fortuneteller. He forms a book group that reads only the works of Kurt Vonnegut and counts as its members the local librarians, a writer, a Vietnam Vet, and a neurologist. He actively corresponds with an astrophysicist from the local university. He does not relate to kids his own age and often seems baffled by their behavior.
Though at first glance, this novel may be marketed toward the young adult fiction genre, this population may not appreciate it. The novel deals with difficult themes that may not seem relevant to a youthful audience. While it is a coming of age story, it marries together the light and dark aspects of humor, faith and rationalism, and morality vs. legality. As all teenagers eventually do, Alex learns that the world is not as simple as he learned in childhood when he ultimately puts the needs of his best friend ahead of his own.
Reviewed by Rachelle Barrett