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The Universe Versus Alex Woods

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A tale of an unexpected friendship, an unlikely hero and an improbable journey...This novel might just strike you as one of the funniest, most heartbreaking novels you've ever read. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Alex Woods - born to a clairvoyant mother and a phantom father, victim of an improbable childhood accident - who is stopped at Dover customs in possession of 113 grams of marijuana and the ashes of his best friend, Vietnam veteran Isaac Peterson. What follows is a highly original and compelling account of Alex's life and the strange series of events that brought him here.

407 pages, Paperback

First published May 21, 2013

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About the author

Gavin Extence

5 books381 followers
Gavin Extence was born in 1982 and grew up in the interestingly named village of Swineshead, Lincolnshire. From the ages of 5-11, he enjoyed a brief but illustrious career as a chess player, winning numerous national championships and travelling to Moscow and St Petersburg to pit his wits against the finest young minds in Russia. He won only one game.

Gavin is currently working on his second novel. When he is not writing, he enjoys cooking, amateur astronomy and going to Alton Towers.

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5 stars
8,338 (36%)
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3 stars
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242 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,589 reviews
Profile Image for Adina.
779 reviews2,951 followers
May 19, 2021
I bought this book back in 2014 and I only got to read it now. What attracted me to it was the name and, based on the blurb, the love of the main character for Kurt Vonnegut. Around that time I read my first two novels by Vonnegut and I was a new member of the fandom. I told myself that I will not start right away with the book, I will wait until I read enough KV to be knowledgeable enough and avoid spoilers. Another 2 novels and 1 short story later I thought I was good enough. Too bad that the novel features heavy spoilers for Sirens of Titans which I haven’t read but it is planned to be my next KV. So it goes.

For two thirds of this novel I had a blast, I chuckled many times and I absolutely loved the character and the humour. Then, as I should have known if I had read more YA, the fun stopped. Enter drama. Yes, the fun bits are still there but too much accent was put on a certain plot twist, so to say. I can’t write more because I don’t want to spoil the novel.

The novel starts brilliantly with Alex being stopped at the UK ferry border while driving with the ashes of a certain Mr. Peterson in the passenger seat and a large bag of weed in the glove compartment. The main character proceeds to have a partial epileptic seizure and then he is retain for questioning. It immediately becomes known that he is a wanted person by the British police for something he did before. The rest of the book takes us through Alex’s childhood when he was struck by a meteorite and all the events that got him in police custody in Dover. The character reminds me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which I also enjoyed. Alex Woods does not seem to be autistic like the character in that book but he thinks differently, likes science and is a bit too naïve.

I really enjoyed this novel, I laughed and yes, I even cried which was not part of the plan.
Profile Image for Wilma.
106 reviews49 followers
March 24, 2017
Alex Woods - I love him...he's amazing! Zijn semi-wetenschappelijke uitwijdingen...zijn Sheldon-achtige trekjes en zijn humor.
Het verhaal is briljant...het is ontroerend, hartverwarmend...het heeft diepgang en humor. Gavin Extence beschrijft de zieleroerselen van Alex op een integere en bijzondere wijze, vol respect en met humor. De relatie tussen hem en meneer Peterson krijgt een extra dimensie, wanneer hij meneer Peterson bijstaat bij zijn zelfdoding(euthanasie). Een omstreden thema, dat door Gavin Extence op integere wijze is uitgewerkt. Het zet je aan het denken.
Van de eerste tot de laatste bladzijde heb ik meegeleefd met deze bijzondere jongen, Alex. Ik hoop op een vervolg!
Profile Image for Melissa.
104 reviews
January 15, 2016
Sometimes, life just lines up in a way that seems like it isn't just a coincidence. Like this:

I'm teaching Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five this fall, so I re-read the book last week. Then, Gaiman's new book was released, and I read that one. I signed into Goodreads to review The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which was really good) and saw Gaiman's recommendation for The Universe Versus Alex Woods. I bought the book without reading more about it because I needed something to read on vacation, and I liked the cover.

And, if you're reading this review, then you probably already know what I didn't know -- that this book centers around Vonnegut, and devotes a significant part of the book to Slaughterhouse-Five.

What Extence gets absolutely right in this book is the mixture of naivety with sincerity with a clear sense of irony. It doesn't have the level of absurdity of Vonnegut but that's not the point of this book, so don't expect any Tralfamadorians.

In another perfect moment, while I was thinking about this book, I listed to a song that has a lyric from a Sydney Lanier poem: "music is love in search of a word." This book and this thought all go together: this book is love all captured in words.
Profile Image for erin.
427 reviews20 followers
June 24, 2013
The best description that I can think of for this book is that it reminded me of "a mixture of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Up, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and The Fault in Our Stars." While that may seem like a strange combination, elements from all of these works are seamlessly combined to create a humorous, poignant novel that will leave a lasting impression.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods is written as a first person retrospective narrative in the style of Kurt Vonnegut, whose works play a rather important role in the novel: the reader is immediately exposed to the action at the end of Alex's story, and is then brought back to the beginning to see how the events leading up to the present situation influenced and shaped his personality and worldview. At first glance, it is a coming of age story about a young boy, Alex, who lives a very unconventional life: he doesn't know who his father is, his mother reads Tarot cards, he is a bit of a celebrity after having been struck by a meteorite when he was young, and his best friend is a Vietnam veteran. However, it is also a thought-provoking work of fiction that deals with many heavy subjects - such as bullying, free will, life, death, euthanasia and morality - in a respectful and meaningful way.

The protagonist, Alex, is a logical, naive, introverted young man with a compelling, authentic voice. There is a lot of social disconnect between him and his peers, due to the fact that he enjoys learning, voices his opinions - regardless of their appropriateness - and tends to go off on many tangents. As a biology student, I found all of the detailed information that Alex provided in regards to his scientific learning to be very interesting (which, from what I've seen, places me in the minority on that count). It is hard not to empathize with Alex, whose childlike innocence and unique worldview make him quite easy to like.

The friendship between Alex and Mr. Peterson is very much like that of Russell and Carl in Up: a young boy befriends a grouchy old man who lost his wife, and eventually the two begin to consider each other as a family of sorts. I loved watching this friendship grow and develop. Though it was filled with difficulties, the influence that this friendship had on both parties was quite powerful - especially towards the end where it is shown just how much they are willing to do for each other. At the beginning of the novel, Alex is a boy, but with Mr. Peterson's help, he becomes a man with a heightened sense of integrity and a new outlook on life.

Overall, this was an excellent novel that will leave you with many ethical and existential questions, and will inspire you to read some of Kurt Vonnegut's works.

This review can also be found at The In-Between Place. Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ecmel Soylu.
90 reviews1,368 followers
October 31, 2015
Okuduğum en ilginç kitaplardan biriydi. Üzücü bir komikliği vardı diyebilirim sanırım. Aslında kitabın geneli kocaman bir şaka gibiydi :') Beğendim, sıkılmadan iki-üç oturuşta bitirdim kitabı.

Bu kitabı herkese öneremem ama. Eğer aşk, romantizm gibi ögelerin fazla olmadığı kitapları okumayı sevmiyorsanız okumanızı tavsiye etmem çünkü yok denecek kadar azdı. Kitabın yazarının büyük bir bilim aşığı olduğu çok açık. Ben bahsettiği konulara (Nöroloji, astronomi gibi) ilgi duyduğum için zevkle okudum kitabı. Öyle ağır bir bilimsel dili yok yani ilginiz olmasa bile anlarsınız ama benim kadar zevk alır mısınız bilemediğim için tereddüt ettim.
Profile Image for Yodamom.
1,975 reviews194 followers
June 26, 2013

It all started with a drive, thirteen grams of marijuana and an urn of ashes. This is the story of Alex Woods from the age of 10 to 17. Alex is one unique and complex character. His life was shattered into a new realm when at age 10 a meteor crashed through his bathroom ceiling and hit him on the head. He lives with his mother a tarot card reader and is receptive to more than most. She doesn't try to fit in and her beliefs are not mainstream. He is already seen as different in his community. After his accident, he becomes almost famous, stalked by paparazzi and reporters. He is also stalked by the school's bullies. These bullies are truly rotten, mean and nasty. Even with all that they lead him down a path of wonderful discoveries and friendship they direct him on a path of great discovery. His tale of the next 7 years is a wonderland of growing up and being different, of learning self control and who he really is and where he wants to fit into the world.The first chapter had me sitting on the edge of my seat with a level of excitement one has when you can feel a great book beginning and it carried to the end. I just wanted to sit in the shade, drink my tea and slip into the life of Alex. It is not a book that should be rushed, but taken slowly, savored. Every emotion is touched and some hit hard where it hurts. A lovely story.

Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,003 followers
February 4, 2014
Oh, wow. The Universe Versus Alex Woods starts off seeming like it's gonna be a quirky sort of book: the narration is matter of fact where it possibly shouldn't be, and the situation Alex is in on the opening pages is an interesting one. Unfortunately for everyone who picked it up on the basis of that, it's not really the kind of book it turned out to be. I don't know that I'd call it funny -- it's not laugh out loud funny, anyway; more "wry smiles" funny -- and I don't know that I'd call it heartbreaking, either. It made me cry, but the simplicity of the narrative voice kept it from being maudlin, from dwelling too much on any of the important details, which is what for me made them strike all the more forcefully.

It is the story of an unlikely friendship, that's definitely true, and it's a beautiful story from my point of view. It's fairly apparent from the first chapter, to me, what exactly is going on here: what matters is how we get there, and how much less funny/quirky it seems by the end, and how much more sad and true and beautiful. But if you don't want to know, don't read any further in this review.

What was apparent to me from the beginning is that this is a book about an assisted suicide. It didn't even need to be stated clearly: trying to get back into the country at Dover, the urn of ashes, somehow it all just clicked for me. Possibly because this is an issue that I've thought about at great length, forwards and backwards. Because if I were Alex Woods, I'd do exactly the same things, in exactly that order, and I would feel exactly as right about it.

The friendship between the two is the fun and quirky part; the fact that, when Mr. Peterson becomes ill, Alex chooses to take care of him, and then to make sure that he is also allowed to die when he's ready, and the understanding between the two... This is an idealised version of how this might happen, and the fact that Alex narrates means that we don't pull up and see this from another character's point of view -- how they might worry about Alex's reactions, how he might feel -- and that might make some people feel that this is a book somehow advocating for euthanasia. Which I think it is, but only in the sense that it makes it clear that to be allowed a choice about how and when we die makes it a lot easier to die -- and that for some people 'how' and 'when' might be very clearly defined, as they are for Mr. Peterson. But I don't think it advocates euthanasia as the only way. It just emphasises choice, and how very comforting it is to many people to know that they have control over even that last inevitability. It even emphasises choice in smaller matters, like what drugs you take.

If you don't understand why someone would want assisted suicide, this might help. If you don't understand why someone would want to help someone commit suicide, I think this would definitely help. And if you already understand both of those things, then it's still something that articulates all this very clearly, and might just give you words or clarity for yourself in the future.

I am definitely, definitely keeping this book. I will probably lend it to people, and I hope I never need to read it again myself, but I can imagine times when I might want to.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,170 reviews266 followers
September 12, 2014
In life, there are no true beginnings or endings. Events flow into each other, and the more you try to isolate them in a container, the more they spill over the sides, like canal-water breaching its artificial banks.

This was a very sweet coming of age novel. I enjoyed learning about meteors, tarot cards, epilepsy and Vonnegut. If you enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I highly recommend this. My critisism is that I found Alex to be a bit one-dimensional. I realize that at sixteen you are mostly an innocent, but I prefer characters with some flaws.

The Story: Alex Woods knows that he hasn't had the most conventional start in life. He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won't endear him to the local bullies. He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen - he's got the scars to prove it. What he doesn't know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he'll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices.

*Netgalley copy
Profile Image for Fiona Robson.
517 reviews11 followers
May 19, 2013
“A tale of an unexpected friendship, an unlikely hero and an improbable journey...This novel might just strike you as one of the funniest, most heartbreaking novels you've ever read. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Alex Woods - born to a clairvoyant mother and a phantom father, victim of an improbable childhood accident - who is stopped at Dover customs in possession of 113 grams of marijuana and the ashes of his best friend, Vietnam veteran Isaac Peterson. What follows is a highly original and compelling account of Alex's life and the strange series of events that brought him here.”

Actually … ignore the above. This story was not funny or heartwarming in the slightest and I hated it! There was absolutely nothing profound and witty in the whole thing. I think the only thing which attracted me to it at all was that it had a lovely pic of Glastonbury Tor on the front, and iBooks had given it a good review. The characters largely annoyed me, especially the hippy dippy mother. Was glad to get this one done and over with!

Profile Image for Maya Panika.
Author 1 book68 followers
November 17, 2020
The tale of Alex Woods, age 17, as told by himself, in a steady, logical, borderline-autistic voice.

Struck on the head by a meteorite when he was a child, Alex lives a quietly extraordinary life. An epileptic, obsessed by maths and astronomy, Alex is a deeply geeky, lonely boy with few friends but a complex inner life. The story is rich in references - His Dark Materials, A Prayer for Owen Meany, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Catch 22, Schubert - but most of all, Kurt Vonnegut, who Alex discovers through his accidental friendship with a Vietnam vet, a friendship destined to change the entire course of Alex’s life.

This is, in many ways, a very profound book, that philosophises on the meaning of life and death - or lack of meaning; Alex is something of an existentialist. Which is not to say Alex Woods Versus the Universe is in any way dry or dull or even worthy; it’s a consistently entertaining and very funny – laugh out loud funny – read, which I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Stacey B.
270 reviews58 followers
October 11, 2021
3.5 stars.
There are many other reviews that describe the book as I would.
No need for a repeat.
Profile Image for Melissa.
71 reviews24 followers
July 26, 2013
What a sweet book. It's about a boy from a small town in England who is odd and a loner, but also very smart and likeable. He rather reminds me of the autistic kid in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend - or the main character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - but more social and less autistic - but he seems like he's on the spectrum or at least a kid with some quirks. Toward the middle of the book, I start seeing similarities to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. BTW, if you have not read any of the three books I just mentioned, add them to your pile as they are 4-5 star books.

It's also about a gruff solitary old man, also smart and sweet on the inside - and how they meet and their relationship as it evolves and what it means to the both of them. Other characters who make an appearance are the boy's mother, a beloved dog, an older sister type figure (friend) from school and other minor characters such as kids at school, some bullies, some not, neighbors, etc.

It is written in an odd way, it starts at the end, goes to the beginning and skips around a bit, but by about 1/4 way through, you are hooked and everything makes sense, things start clicking into place like magnets and you are rolling down the reader track eagerly anticipating every event as it unfolds. At it's most basic, it sounds like a typical boy/man bonding story that's been done a hundred times, but it has surprising twists and a modern slant. This would have been 4 star except I kicked it up to 5 because sometimes 5 star books for me are where I learned new things, I learned a ton about Kurt Vonnegut, astrophysics, growing marijuana and epilepsy. What an odd combination, right? Well, it isn't fair to leak out too much more of the story, you'll have to read it yourself to see how it all fits together. I recommend everyone read this book.

I must add: for those of you with sensitive eyes and constitutions, I must say there are bad words, both British and American. If you have read the description, there is also marijuana use and cultivation, that is very casual and matter of fact, although the main character (young teen) does caution the other person not to use marijuana because it's not good for him - so there is that. Anyway, if these things bother you, try to overlook so you can enjoy this lovely book. So for those of you 16+ and not impressionable in the least, please read this book.
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,560 reviews5,818 followers
July 17, 2013
The book starts out with Alex being arrested for having a stash of pot, cash and Mr Peterson's remains in his car. I thought..okay so this is going to be one weird book. Then Alex Woods tells his story.
The story involved is Alex from age 10 until 17. Alex is such a fresh, vibrant voice. I LOVED his character. He is smart, questions lifes mystery's and is somewhat brain damaged from a rogue comet that hit him in the head.
This book just kept suprising me. It makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? How do you treat people that you see as different? LOVED it. Bravo Gavin Extence!
Profile Image for Mafi.
1,096 reviews197 followers
February 28, 2017
Daqueles livros sem um plot definido mas com personagens fantásticas.

A personagem principal é o Alex que aos 10 anos é ati gido por um pequeno meteorito enquanto estava em casa. Apesar do livro não começar assim, começar logo no meio da história, este é o ponto principal do livro e é a partir deste acontecimento que tudo de desenrola. Embora este acidente tenha deixado sequelas na saúde de Alex, o jovem não se deixa abalar e mantêm-se fascinado pela astronomia e astrologia ao ponto de querer seguir carreira nesta área.
Certo dia, numa casualidade conhece o Sr. Peterson e nasce entre os dois uma bela amizade e sobretudo é ensinado ao Alex e ao leitor uma lição de vida.

Este pequeno resumo pode parecer que o livro é uma seca e que não há história mas não é bem assim. Há livros que têm historias e as personagens são uma porcaria, aqui acontece precisamente o contrário. Para além do espaço temporal do livro ser muito grande (vamos percorrendo toda a adolescência do Alex até aos 19 anos), a personagem principal é divertida e muito curiosa e várias vezes dei por mim a rir em alto som. Outro ponto positivo é a meio do livro ser introduzido uma homenagem ao livro "Matadouro Cinco" de Kurt Vonnegut. Embora já conhecesse, nunca li e como gosto de livros que mencionem ou falem de outros livros, fiquei curiosa para ler esta obra.
Aprovado e recomendado para quem gosta de ler algo diferente de vez em quando.
Profile Image for Tony.
46 reviews
January 13, 2014
What an unexpectedly good book. Trouble is now i'm going to have to read Vonnegut and Nietzsche!
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
660 reviews50 followers
June 19, 2016
So near perfect a read I can't think of any reason not to give it 5 stars. Straight to my favourites list.

I thought Alex such a wonderfully engaging, fascinating character. When I started reading the novel I thought it was headed along similar lines to Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, or maybe The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, both of whom have quirky individuals as narrators, but it quickly became its own story, delightful and charming and entirely unique.
Profile Image for Aziza Zeilenzauber.
44 reviews9 followers
July 15, 2018
Nahegehend, wichtig, wortgewaltig!

Ein wundervolles Buch mit unfassbar liebenswürdigen Charakteren, die einen noch eine ganze Weile verfolgen. Ein wichtiges Thema, mit dem man sich sicher mal in seinem Leben auseinandergesetzt haben sollte und all das verpackt in einen humorvollen, nahegehenden Schreibstil. Eine klare Empfehlung von mir.

Good job Mr. Garvin Extence!👍
Profile Image for Claire (Book Blog Bird).
1,050 reviews38 followers
April 29, 2015
This review is also on my blog: www.bookblogbird.weebly.com

When a book opens with a seventeen year old protagonist beings stopped at Dover customs in the middle of what seems to be a nervous breakdown, with a large bag of marijuana and an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, you know there’s going to be some pretty interesting explanations coming up.

The Universe vs Alex Woods tells the story of Alex who, as a ten year old, was hit on the head by a tiny meteorite. This fantastically improbable accident lead to Alex developing epilepsy, missing a whole chunk of school and becoming kind of an oddball. Whilst running away from the school bullies one day, Alex meets Mr Peterson, a curmudgeonly Vietnam veteran. They bond over a mutual love of Kurt Vonnegut and become unlikely friends.

I absolutely fell for this book and it’s become one that I keep recommending to people, to the point where they say, ‘Yeah, it’s okay. You already told us how much you loved that book.’

Alex’s voice is very hard to sum up. His epilepsy caused him to miss a large portion of secondary school and as a result he is very awkward socially, a misfit, pretty geeky (and not in a good way). He doesn’t really get euphemisms or sarcasm and seems a little naive for his years, but despite this (or maybe because of it) at times he just seems to cut through to the truth of things. The chapter where Alex explains misuse of the word ‘gay’ is hands-down the funniest thing I read all year.

I really liked Alex’s mum - it was really refreshing to read about a single parent and someone who lives a very alternative lifestyle (she is a clairvoyant and owns a tarot card shop) who isn’t a flake or dropout. Mr Peterson was superb, as was Alex’s friendship with Ellie, the foul-mouthed girl in the year above.

The storyline itself has many strands. It’s about the difficulty of social acceptance, coming of age, friendships, the right to die, all of which are dealt with sensitively and thought-provokingly, but also with humour and the ending was one of the most moving I’ve ever read.

Profile Image for Tomáš Fojtik.
239 reviews223 followers
September 24, 2016
Od první chvíle jsem si uvědomoval, že po dočtení té knihy mi bude smutno. Je to další z knih, u kterých víte, jak dopadne. Příběh tedy není o tom, co se stane, ale jak se to stane. Meteorit, který zasáhne Alexe Woodse a dílem této nehody dostane epilepsii je spouštěč řady více či méně bizarních událostí. Alex Woods se začne zajímat o neurologii a astrofyziku (aby ne, když na vás sletí meteorit a praští do hlavy) a brzy se seznámí s panem Petersonem, válečným veteránem a podivínem. Spřátelí se a Alex se pro něj brzy stane nejbližším člověkem. Jejich přátelství Alexovi přináší nová témata, nad kterými musí přemýšlet a musí je řešit. Vesmír versus Alex Woods je kniha o dospívání, takže vám určitě připomene slavnější knihy na podobné téma. Jedním z témat knihy je eutanazie a tady musím zvednout obočí. Nedávno jsem viděl dokument Terryho Pratchetta "Choose to die" a je evidentní, že Gavin Extence od Pratchetta opisoval. Některé motivy z dokumentu zazní v knize, nicméně celkové vyznění této části knihy je opačné, než u Pratchetta (konkrétnější být nechci). Je to trochu škoda, protože Extence si mohl dát tu práci a do příběhu zakomponovat polemiku, kterou v dokumentu dost sugestivně začal Terry Pratchett. To je vlastně má jediná výtka vůči knize – že téma asistované sebevraždy je zde podáno příliš povrchně.

Váhal jsem mezi 4* a 5*. Je to totiž přesně mezi. Zůstal jsem u čtvrté, protože přesto, že tam je spoustu zajímavých myšlenek a kniha je mimořádně dobře čtivá, tak vlastně nepřináší nic převratného a příběh kamarádství mladého kluka a stárnoucího člověka taky není kdovíjak originální.
Profile Image for Jacki (Julia Flyte).
1,230 reviews168 followers
August 15, 2013
I fell heavily for this book. In turn funny, heartwarming, clever and tearjerking, it's an absolute delight from its immediately engaging start through to its finish. It's about (and narrated by) Alex Woods, a quirky, bookish, misfit teen who has suffered from epilepsy since he was hit by a meteor at the age of 10. He befriends an older man, Mr Peterson, and among other things, they bond over a love of Kurt Vonnegut novels. We know from the opening paragraph that Mr Peterson will die, but the book takes a long time to work its way back to the story behind how that happens - and why Alex becomes the subject of a police hunt.

Why this book works so well is not in what happens (which is only borderline believable), but the delightful way that Alex tells us his story and gets us to care so much about his fate. The book succeeds in tackling some heavy subjects but in a way that isn't remotely hard going. Alex's deadpan humour and unusual take on events is simply delightful to read.

535 reviews10 followers
January 8, 2014
I'll never find the right words to express how I felt about this book other than "I LOVED IT"! The author must be very sensitive and aware of the human condition. This story of a young boy being hit on the head by a meteorite and his ensuing experience is so imaginative, creative, clever, funny,poignant, full of questioning morality, science, love, dedication, quirky characters and twisting plot makes for a very compelling and can't put down read. I fell in love with the young boy as well as the author!
Profile Image for Marie the Librarian.
1,352 reviews225 followers
June 23, 2016
I loved this book. I adored Alex. Hes such a smart kid. I love his insight and curiosity. MORE PEOPLE LIKE ALEX. And Mr. Peterson. And their friendship. its just precious. This book gave me Extremely loud and incredibly close vibes. Something about the atmosphere. I loved this book. So much. And such an important theme.
Profile Image for Ceecee.
226 reviews54 followers
April 24, 2014
Well, here's the thing, if a book has:

*An introverted bookworm epileptic who loves learning about math, physics, astronomy, and who openly admits that his hobbies are definitely "gay" (in the high school context)
*Unexpected friendships
*Classical music
*Book discussions
*A dog
*Questions about Life and Death and the Universe

I am bound to want to pick it up. Especially with that kind of synopsis. It's one of those few synopses that are spot on. I am all about curious incidents and unexpected connections that form our world.

Also, if it has:

*A hero who writes to the wrongly imprisoned
*Terminal illness
*A furry animal friend dying

Well, of course, it's going to appeal to my sensitivities. It's bound to tug at anyone's heartstrings.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods is the kind of book that makes you think, compels you to reevaluate your beliefs and the lengths you're willing to take for a friend.

It starts off at the end, with 17-year old Alex held up at customs because he has 113 lbs of marijuana, and, oh, an urn containing the ashes of one Mr Peterson. How did that happen? Alex takes you back to 7 years ago, when he was struck by a meteor, and then we are treated to Alex Woods Growing Up.

I can't say this is a coming-of-age story, though, because Alex is pretty much mature for his age already. Instead, this is a story about how little incidents in our lives influence events in the future. You will have to ask yourself, if these series of incidents didn't happen to Alex, would his life have been different? If I had chosen to take the bus instead of walking, would I be with my boyfriend right now? And similar questions, which makes life so damn confusing and yet amazing. In a way, this book is a celebration of that.

I suppose people could easily compare this with Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and all those other books with introverted young men who are fascinated with math and sciences. Alex is introverted, but is it because he was struck by a meteor, became epileptic, held behind a grade, that he was isolated from his peers? Was Alex autistic? Personally, I don't think so. In any case, I found I liked Alex because he was such a nerd and didn't compromise his principles (such a precocious kid!) to be accepted. I also liked that he was thoughtful and yet sensitive.

The other characters (except for the bullies) are also easy to care about. I also liked that it incorporated Kurt Vonnegut and how fitting his novels are to Alex and Mr Peterson's lives. And of course, the classical music. If a book makes you want to learn more about stuff, and makes you want to go read all of Kurt Vonnegut's books, then it can't be all bad.

Reading Alex Woods was enjoyable and thought-provoking (there's one major moral dilemma delved into here). And I love books that make me think. It makes that book stay with you for a while longer. Since this was my first NetGalley ARC, I didn't know it had an expiration date, so I chose one of the ARCs I received and read it. I found I did not want to put it down.

The only thing I can really criticize about it is that sometimes Alex would be narrating too much, like detailed descriptions of what seizures are, the asteroid belt, etc. I found the dialogues are much more strongly written, and a more effective way of propelling the story forward, rather than plainly Alex telling us what he thought or learned. Aside from that, I really liked the book.

*4.5 stars A book that lingers, and made me want to start at the beginning again. A well-written debut book and a worthy read.

~The ebook was provided to me through NetGalley~
I believe it's still available until July 30.
Profile Image for N.E. David.
Author 6 books67 followers
December 7, 2013
I first met Gavin Extence at a booklaunch in Waterstones in York. He attracted quite a following and I naturally wondered why. I met him again a few months later at Wakefield Literary Festival. Another following. This time I discovered that he is not only a remarkably nice young man but that he has also written a remarkably good book. No wonder he's popular.
His followers are predominantly women. That's no surprise in literary circles as the vast majority of readers are female, a fact prospective authors would do well to recognise. You will guess from this that his book is neither an SAS thriller nor an historical naval drama but it's rather about character and relationships - two compelling characters (Alex Woods and Mr Peterson) and a binding relationship. It's also about assisted suicide and so it has a strong and contemporary theme. These three things alone (character, relationships and theme) are likely to make it a good book but then there's the writing - and that's good too. Mr Extence's prose flows easily across the page but is never in danger of becoming poetic or flowery. A good story, well told - what more could you want?
I've heard it said that if you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time you will also enjoy The Universe Versus Alex Woods. And so you might, but not for the obvious reason. True, Alex is a 'challenged' teenager ('gay' as he chooses to describe himself - but not in the sexual sense) as is Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident, but Alex's disability (epilepsy) is not central to the book as is Christopher's autism. Alex will always be an outsider at school, epilepsy or not. What makes both these books enjoyable are those three essential ingredients of character, plot and theme - ie. the basics.
If I were to pick a couple of nits with The Universe it would be these. Firstly, the word 'blocky' which I had never heard before but which Mr Extence used repeatedly until it got on my nerves. But far more importantly, his need to 'book-end' the story by starting with Alex's arrival at Dover Customs. This admittedly makes for an interesting and engaging beginning - what is he doing there? where has he come from? and why has he got a stash of marijuana and several hundred pounds in cash? We would naturally like to know. But in terms of timeline, this part of the story belongs to the ending - what is it doing here? The answer, I suspect, is the modern requirement to provide an opening that is designed to ensnare the reader. I shouldn't complain, I did it myself in BIRDS OF THE NILE, but who was I trying to please? Myself, my agent, my publisher or the reader? One wonders ...
But none of these things detract from what is an extremely good book. I know Mr Extence is hard at work on another. The test of his ability as a writer will be if he can produce something equally as compelling but in a different voice. If he can, I will certainly be interested in reading it.
Profile Image for Peggy.
454 reviews52 followers
February 1, 2017
It's always great when you read a book that you have been wanting to read for a long time, that you have high expectations for, that has been rated highly by your GR friends, to actually be a 5 star read. It's even greater to read a book that you have no expectations of, hardly heard about before you started reading it, and has no indication of greatness based on your friends ratings because no one has read it, and to find out that that book is worth 5 stars.

What a wonderful story. Alex is one of my favourite book characters of this year, I just loved the way he talks and thinks and tells us about the past 7 years of his life. I wish there were lots more Alex's in the world, it would make the world such a better place. The story itself is sweet and heartwarming. It's also funny and sad, not in the laugh-out-loud or cry-out-loud way, but in that same sweet and heartwarming and beautiful way that all of the book makes you feel. I'm sitting here, having finished the book, and I'm feeling content and pleased and satisfied and have a smile on my face and feel like all is right in the world, and for me, that's the best way to feel after finishing a book.
Profile Image for Sooz.
695 reviews31 followers
July 7, 2013
i'm only a couple of pages in, so only have two impressions:
1. it's immediately compelling
2. it's kind of simplistic writing. this isn't necessarily a bad thing. it is a seventeen year old narrator and an author's style and language should definitely match the chosen narrator. and simplistic is always preferred over trying too hard and failing at something more sophisticated. i know, i fail at that all the time!

so having finished it -and faced with finishing this review and giving out a star rating- i am hesitant. ratings can go one of two ways. completely subjective - based solely on my personal feelings about it- or i can attempt some objectivity and consider whether or not it is a good book, not just a likable book.

the author wrote something that is easy to like. it's easy to read. it's heartfelt. it's entertaining. engaging. but is that enough?

for me, the answer is no.

Profile Image for Chris.
557 reviews
February 8, 2017
It took me a while to get into this (like more than 100 page), but stuck with it based on the fact it was recommended to me (hi Kats!), and it has a 4+ rating on GR. And I'm glad I did. I spent more than a year looking for it in new and used bookstores and finally (finally!) found it, of course, at The Strand.

I don't think I've ever met a character like Alex in literature before. This was a fun and heartbreaking read. I think it might be categorized as young adult, given Alex is a teen, but this adult loved the story and would recommend it to all readers, big and small.
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