Author: Gavin Extence
Publisher: Redhook Books
Publication Date: June 2013
Synopsis from Goodreads:
A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.
But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …
Alex Woods is set apart from his peers early on. At the age of ten, he is hit in the head by a meteorite–an occurrence that should have killed him. He is held back a year, develops epilepsy, and becomes an outcast, no longer fitting in with the status quo. Here’s something else: Alex is awesome. He’s an innocent, curious, intelligent, Kurt Vonnegut-loving young man who’s excited by the world around him, but he hasn’t learned the things he should know at his age. As he puts it: “I knew quite a lot of things — things that some twelve-year-olds didn’t know. I knew a surprising amount about the anatomy and physiology of the brain. I knew the difference between meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites…I didn’t know half of the things I was supposed to know at twelve years old” (79).
Alex’s friendship with Mr. Peterson is heart-warming. This school aged boy and this Vietnam veteran make an unlikely pair, but they are brought together in companionship and an enjoyment of reading Vonnegut, listening to classical music, and discussing pacifism. Mr. Peterson treats Alex like an adult and provides him with the respect that Alex doesn’t receive in his daily school life. Alex is tortured by the cruelty of the jocks in his class and finds refuge in the intellectual conversations and explorations that he finds with Mr. Peterson. In return, Alex provides Mr. Peterson with stimulating conversation, unwavering devotion, and loyal friendship.
At the heart of this book is the moral question of a person’s right to choose between life and death. It questions a person’s control over their body and their choices. It brings to light the harsh judgement and unforgiving nature of the media. Alex grows into a decisive and opinionated young adult, who at seventeen is “old enough to drive and procreate, but…not old enough to vote or drink alcohol” (382). The argument is whether he is old enough to have opinions and make decisions about free will. The media casts him to be a sociopath, a troubled youth, or a misguided innocent, but never is he a thinking, motivated adult with a brain of his own. Can he be judged for his actions if he’s too young to be considered an adult? The Universe Versus Alex Woods toes that moral line.
This book made me laugh, it made me cry, but above all else, it made me want to read more Vonnegut. It’ll break your heart, but it’ll also bring a smile to your face. A definite must read!