The Universe Versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence
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 …
Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.
When my sister, Ro, finished reading this book, she immediately handed it to me and said “I think you’ll like this”. She compared Alex Woods to an “older version of a Susin Nielsen character”, and let me just say that she was right.
The story starts off with a bang: right away, you’re wondering who Alex is and what he’s doing crossing back into the UK from Switzerland. I don’t really remember Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, though I do know I’ve read it, but it’s easy to see why the two books are comparable. Their protagonists aren’t your every-day kids: while Curious Incident features an autistic boy, Alex Woods was a “regular” kid until he was hit by a meteorite.
Honestly, the meteorite is the only unbelievable aspect of this book. And even that is given a scientific explanation that makes you think, “yeah, that could happen”.
The book is relatively slow-going: it takes you back about seven years and describes the events that led up to the moment we first meet Alex at the customs office. Most, if not all, of the events described have some sort of significance, but if you’re not a fan of character-driven novels, you might want to skip this one. Alex’s voice is so strong and so believable, I occasionally forgot that I wasn’t reading a real autobiography: Gavin Extence captured the voice so well, it had a realness to it.
I will also admit that this book made me cry. Even though I knew full well who was going to die and had sufficient time to emotionally prepare myself, I, like Alex, cried. Not full on ugly-crying, but the silent tears that make it seem like crying was inevitable so there was no point in trying to stop them.
Funny, endearing, and heartbreaking, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is an excellent story about friendship, death, and the lives we lead.