Alex 1, Universe 0

Alex Woods is not your average 17-year-old.  That’s apparent as this debut novel opens.  Book cover for The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin ExtenceWhen pulled over by the border patrol upon returning home to England, the ashes of his best friend reside in passenger seat, the glove box is filled with marijuana, and Alex’s response to the pull over is to jack up the volume of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and sit in deep concentration till its last note sounds.  Of course there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this, and so begins a quirky coming of age story that starts when a meteorite slams through the roof and into 11-year-old Alex’s head.  Alex’s father is a mystery, his mom, the deeply new age proprietress of the Queen of Cups-a supplier of potions, tarot cards, and similar supernatural paraphernalia.   His only friend is an utterly irreverent and sarcastic female chain smoker several years older than himself.  The impact of the meteorite leaves Alex a victim of epilepsy which he eventually learns to control.  He has a genius for math and science and prefers reading over athletics.  It’s no wonder Alex becomes the victim of school bullies.  Fleeing his antagonists one afternoon, he takes refuge, barricading himself in a backyard greenhouse.  The thwarted bullies satisfy themselves with breaking some windows.  When the owner discovers Alex, he assumes he’s done the damage himself, a belief Alex’s mother shares without question.  She sentences him to work off his debt by performing  jobs for the owner.  Mr. Peterson, an American, pot smoking, Vietnam Vet and active pacifist doesn’t welcome Alex’s sudden introduction into his life, but when Alex pulls Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan off Peterson’s bookshelf, a most unlikely friendship takes root.  The consideration of serious moral issues and Extence’s humorous, breezy style pay tribute to Vonnegut’s influence.   Peterson could have stepped straight out of a Vonnegut novel.  I can’t wait to see what Extence does next.

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