Title: The Universe vs. Alex Woods
Author: Gavin Extence
Genre: Fiction, YA, Coming of Age, Realistic
‘The first thing I learned that day was this: what you think you know about a person is only a fraction of the story.’
After being hit by a meteor when he was a child, the fact that Alex Woods is alive is nothing short of a miracle. Under the watchful eye of his clairvoyant mother, he lives a sheltered life, until an incident with the school bullies leads him into Mr Peterson’s life, an elderly widower who has kept to himself for years. A friendship forms between the two, until some shocking news turns each of their lives upside down.
Why does every book make me cry these days? The plot was predictable, mainly because of where the story starts (being stopped at customs on the way back into England), but even though I knew what would be happening, it still made me bawl.
Alex is an incredible character, a desperately moral and intelligent boy whose experiences have led him to be quite naive about the world. Mr Peterson, a grumpy old cynic, contrasts with Alex perfectly, and in the end it is Alex’s inquisitiveness and innocence which makes Mr Peterson (and the reader) warm to him.
The story holds a very serious topic alongside the comical moments brought about by the unusual friendship: the moral debate surrounding euthanasia. I read it (oblivious to its content) days before Parliament discussed the possibility of legalising assisted suicide, and the book offered a lot of information on the process. Although it is a work of fiction, it was incredibly thought-provoking. From my experiences, there are people I know and have known who would have benefited from accessing the service here, but obviously there are still some kinks in the idea that need to be smoothed out, so that everyone is happy. I do hope that in my lifetime it is legalised in this country… I highly recommend the book regardless of your standpoint on assisted suicide. It is a beautiful story about friendship and loss and doing the right thing.
My only criticism is there were a few random bits of backstory which in my opinion weren’t very relevant or interesting, which I did end up skimming over. However, this could easily be put down to Alex, whose narration and actions do give the sense that he is on the Autistic spectrum (whether this is a result of the meteor, who knows). It reminded me in parts of The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time, which also has an Autistic narrator.
Star Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5/5)