Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: "The Universe Versus Alex Woods" by Gavin Extence

When he was 10 years old, Alex Woods was struck by a meteorite, which crashed through the ceiling of his house. It left him in a coma for two weeks, with a permanent scar, and with epilepsy. All of these things, plus his straightforward, bookish nature, his lack of desire for fighting, and the fact that his mother makes her living as a tarot card reader, mark Alex as a target for bullies at school, and leave him without friends, so he finds friends in books and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

Alex meets curmudgeonly Isaac Peterson, a disabled Vietnam veteran, somewhat by chance—Alex is hiding in Mr. Peterson's garden shed—but this encounter changes them both in many different ways. But how did 17-year-old Alex wind up detained at customs at the English border, with a significant amount of marijuana in the glove compartment, an urn of ashes on the passenger seat, and be the target of media and police attention in several countries?

"My mother would say that everything happens for a reason, but I don't agree with that—not in the sense she'd mean it, anyway. Most of what happens is pure chance. Nevertheless, I have to admit that there are certain moments that, in retrospect, seem to shape the course of our lives to a remarkable degree."

Gavin Extence's The Universe Versus Alex Woods is an amusing, immensely charming, and, dare I say it, heartwarming book, about not being afraid to embrace who you are, and learning to trust those around you. Alex Woods is a remarkable character—inquisitive, sensitive, intelligent, and at times infuriating, and as the book unfolds, I found myself getting more and more invested in what happened to him, and couldn't wait to find out exactly what brought him to his interaction with customs officials. While the plot might not necessarily be surprising, Alex's growth and journey both of self-discovery and discovery of the world around him, made this book tremendously compelling.

I really enjoyed this book, and although I'd guess that for Gavin Extence, this was the story about Alex Woods worth telling, I'd love to know more about his life after the book ended. So if you're listening, how about a sequel or follow-up of some sort?

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