Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Review: "At the Edge of the Universe" by Shaun David Hutchinson

Did you ever get the feeling you and an author would be great friends (or perhaps mortal enemies), simply based on the books they write and the way they tell stories? Even if that's irrational as thinking you'd be great friends with a television character, I still believe that from time to time.

Near the top of my list would be Shaun David Hutchinson, who absolutely slayed me with We Are the Ants (see my original review), which was in the top five of the best books I read last year. Now he's back with At the Edge of the Universe, which I loved nearly as much, and it just convinced me I'd love to spend time just talking to Hutchinson and understanding how he thinks. At the very least, I'd love to be friends with one of his characters.

Ozzie and Tommy have been best friends since childhood, and they've been boyfriends since the eighth grade. Tommy is so much of Ozzie's world, the two have weathered so much, particularly Tommy's abusive father, and they dream of one day escaping their Florida hometown. And then one day, Tommy disappears, without any warning. But worse that that, Tommy has ceased to exist—no one but Ozzie remembers Tommy, and all of the memories that the two shared, or shared with others, have been amended or totally rewritten.

"It's impossible to let go of the people we love. Pieces of them remain embedded inside of us like shrapnel. Every breath causes these fragments to burrow through our muscles, nearer to our hearts. And we think the pain will kill us, but it won't. Eventually, scar tissue forms around those twisted splinters like cocoons. They remain part of us, but slowly hurt less. At least, I hoped they would."

As Ozzie desperately tries to figure out what happened to Tommy, and convince those around him—including Tommy's mother—that he actually existed, Ozzie begins to realize that the universe is shrinking, and perhaps Tommy was taken away into some alternate universe. But that's not the only crisis Ozzie has to face—his parents are getting divorced, his older brother has joined the military and is about to head to basic training, and one of his best friends, Lua, is becoming distant as her dreams of musical success start coming to fruition.

Then Ozzie is paired with Calvin on a physics class project. Calvin was once a star wrestler, class president, and all-around popular guy, until the day he quit wrestling and student council, came into school every day wearing the same hoodie and jeans, and mostly sleeps through class. Obviously there's something that made Calvin change so abruptly, and Ozzie wants to get to the bottom of it, but at the same time, he really can only focus on finding Tommy. But as he gets to know Calvin, he can't deny that he might be falling for him, but he doesn't know what to do—is it unfair to Tommy for Ozzie to pursue another relationship, or should he try and move on? And what if Tommy really doesn't exist?

As the universe continues to shrink, and Ozzie's life continues to change, he knows he has a finite amount of time to find Tommy. But he also realizes there are so many more people in his life with problems. Should he help solve those, even if it might betray their trust, or should he not lose site of his goal? And will there be a universe left when he decides?

Even though it's a little confusing when the plot goes all science-y, this is a beautiful book that hits you right in your heart. Once again, Hutchinson combines sci-fi and emotion to create a tremendously compelling, moving story about friendship, love, loyalty, trust, family, secrets, and selfishness. There is so much here to like, even if the characters aren't always 100 percent sympathetic, but it is Hutchinson's storytelling, his use of language and dialogue, that kicks this book up another notch. His characters may be wiser than their years, but they don't sound as if they just walked out of a John Green novel, where every sentence is a sarcastic burn or a philosophical insight.

Hutchinson is open that as a teenager he struggled with depression and contemplated suicide, so he has a tremendous amount of empathy for his characters and their problems. I do wish he had dwelled a little less on the physics, but it didn't keep me from loving this book and these characters. Like We Are the Ants, it will be a long while before I'll be able to get this story out of my mind. Is it 100 percent plausible? No. Does it matter? Not to me, given how tightly it grabbed my heart.

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