The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence

universeThis is one of those books I’d never have heard of if not for the Book Buzz phenomenon of there being a huge display of copies at my local Chapters. I’m so glad I did see it, because I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky coming-of-age tale.

It starts with a great hook. Seventeen-year-old Alex is stopped at the channel border crossing from France back into his home country of England, driving a car with a glove compartment full of marijuana and a dead man’s ashes in an urn on the front seat. The official questioning him thinks Alex is not paying attention to the seriousness of the situation, but that’s actually because Alex is about to have a seizure. As he’s being taken away for questioning, Alex tells the reader that what he really wants is to tell the story of how he got into that situation in his own way, going back to the beginning – the beginning being when he was struck by a meteorite at age ten. And so the story unfolds.

Alex is a great first-person narrator with a compelling voice. The story of his life from age ten to age seventeen is about chance, friendship, love, life, death and all the big stuff, but it always stays very real and immediate because of the warm and believable storytelling. Alex is a little bit remeniscent of first person narrators in books such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime or Come, Thou Tortoise — not because he shares the cognitive limitations of those narrators but because as a young person he sees the world in some very specific ways that make him both very perceptive and at the same time very blind to other things. I found this a wonderful, engaging story which I read quickly and thoroughly enjoyed.

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