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Book Discussion: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

    • carolineb
    • Carolineb February 8, 2014 1:55 PM

      Hi everyone!

      Here is my review for this month's book - hope you all enjoyed it, and would love to hear nay suggestions on what we should do next xx

      The Universe VS. Alex Woods – Gavin Extence

      I absolutely loved this book! It was such a nice surprise for me because I only picked it up as a free proof copy at work while I was working at Waterstones – I didn’t think it would be for me but as it was free I thought “oh Well!” So glad I did!

      Extence’s writing style was such a pleasure to read – and on a debut novel! The way he creates and embodies Alex was fantastic – I actually checked the front cover at one stage to check that it wasn’t some sort of biography! One funny thing I found while I was reading it, was my answer to the question, when asked “Oh what’s it about?” Every time I tried to explain the book to someone it ended up sounding utterly ridiculous or silly – “A boy is hit on the head with a meteorite that falls through his roof (!) and then makes friends with an old man” – but it was so much more then this – I hope you’ll agree!! The personality and innocence of Alex is so endearing, and it is this narrative that makes the story for me.

      I liked how clever Alex was, and how blunt. I enjoyed learning about some of the thing she was interested in, it struck me how impressive Extence’s research must have been into meteorites and medical procedures – and more so that he wrote this is a readable and interesting way for someone like me who is not the most scientifically minded.

      I did find the story heart-warming - if you can’t tell already I fell in love with Alex as a character. In fact it hought Extence wrote all of his characters brilliantly, Alex’s mum and Mr Peterson were also very real to me. I liked his friendship with Mr Peterson, how it started and ended. The ending was made sadder to me due to the matter of fact way Alex says everything – I must admit that I cried like a baby at the end when he said so simply “I love you and I’ll miss you”. I thought that was so beautiful.

      Having said this, I was shocked at myself that I’d cried at this book. Humorous and tinged with irony, I wouldn’t have believed it if someone said that id cry at the end. Full of surprises!

      I suppose the big questions are this:

      Do I think Mr Peterson should have died? YES!

      Should he be allowed to take his own life? Yes, and a shame he had to go out of his country to do it. I can understand why there are laws, but in circumstances such as this I can’t think it fair or lawful to stop someone in his position.

      How about you guys? Do you agree? Is Alex’s involvement somehow wrong?

      I would like to give credit to Extence for writing about a gritty topic in a matter of fact way. I don’t think he was flippant for making light of the situation, that’s just the way Alex was. The was not one part of this book that I did not like – he even said a word I have hated forever ( I think you know which I mean!) and it made me laugh – that moment in the principal’s office my jaw just dropped!!

      I laughed, I was shocked, I was frustrated, I cried – wonderful! I hope you all enjoyed it as much as me, I think you can tell I was positively gushing about it! If you didn’t though, I am really interested to see why, or if you did – which bits did you like?

      Also; any suggestions for the next book?!

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      • JaneDosanjh
      • JaneDosanjh February 11, 2014 10:26 PM



        This was such an interesting book to me. I was excited to read it but found myself getting really bored after a few chapters. I found Alex quite boring and the style of writing, whist in keeping with a child narrator, rather annoying then all of a sudden Alex met Mr Peterson and the book took off for me. Mr Peterson’s dry wit and brilliant one-liners made me burst out laughing (which was rather embarrassing at the hairdressers!!)

        Ellie was another great character with her expletive greetings and nonchalant attitude. I’m glad we saw the true side to her character when she discovered Alex sneaking into the shop to leave the letter for his Mum. His poor Mum, what an awful letter to receive from your child. She was fantastic in the police station at the end and had me silently cheering with her performance.

        The whole subject of assisted suicide was dealt with very well, I thought.

        It’s a difficult topic but I felt that the author was very sensitive and at this point I particularly appreciated his use of a child’s (Alex’s) voice to simplify the situation.

        I thought the parallel with Mr Peterson’s dog being hit by a car and subsequently euthanized so that he would not suffer was particularly powerful.

        How is it that we are willing to assist an animal to die in order to remove their pain and suffering but yet when it comes to humans we insist on life being preserved at all costs. I may be being a bit controversial here, but it’s a subject I feel very strongly about.

        Mr Peterson didn’t want to die; he wasn’t depressed; he just didn’t want to live trapped in a body that no longer worked.

        Alex gave him a chance to live as long as he wanted to with the promise that he would help him when he was ready. That was an amazing gift and so brave of Alex and he was a genius for coming up with the idea.

        Overall, I thought this was a great book. It was just a little too slow to start for me. I’m glad I persevered (for the sake of the book club of course) otherwise I would have missed out on this brilliant book!

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      • KristenJoy
      • KristenJoy February 12, 2014 8:10 PM

        Loved this book from beginning to end. I found the characters well developed and the messages intriguing.

        I agree with Jane, the idea of assisted suicide in our society is strangely viewed. How is it we have empathy for pets suffering, but not humans? In the book, there is a quote about not fearing death, but fearing dying. I had not put much thought to the idea and it spurred me to thinking. Why aren't we given more humane options to ending a great life in a dignified manner? Alex had overcome so many challenges in his short life, all of which I think prepared him to help Mr. Peterson. The friendship was stronger and more selfless than most and a true testament to the strength of both characters.

        I enjoyed all the research that was put into the book, from Epilepsy, to meteors to bullying and assisted suicide, I felt it was well written and insightful!

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      • Dianne
      • Dianne February 14, 2014 8:23 AM

        I too loved this book and I would never have picked up a book about a boy hit by a meteor without the bookclub because even reading the blurb gave no idea of just how powerful it was and as caz says you can't explain it from the plot line because it just sounds weird. It was the writing that made it gripping and I can't believe it is the author's first book and I hope he is hard at work on his next!

        The book had me laughing and crying too but I loved all the deep questions that made you think, like how time stretches when it is simple and uncluttered but accelerates when you try to stuff more into it. I loved Alex and thought his voice was perfect - childlike yet slightly autistic perhaps? When I started to read the book I thought it was teen fiction but after reading it I don't think so because the issues were so deep and cleverly hidden: Ellie's problems, his mother's problems and of course the final chapters with Mr P. I found myself willing him on to be able to have the death of his choice even though I didn't really want him to die. I was happy with the end though even though it was so sad and the matter of fact way it was all described somehow made it more poignant than lots of gushing sentiment would have done.

        I do agree with people being able to have the death of their choice, it seems a fundamental human right to me, although their are obvious safeguards needed. I had a conversation the other day with a man who still had not got over the death of his mother three years ago. It wasn't her death as she had been ill for a long time but the way she died...crawling on the floor and double incontinent (sorry) and he can't get the image out of his mind to replace it with the memory of the beautiful strong woman she was. He said she would have been so mortified if she had known how she would end up because she was a proud and very private person but even when her mind was still there there weren't any options to put in place in this country. That's often the problem though isn't it, that by the time you get so bad you are incapable of making the decision mentally. Mr Peterson was lucky to have a helper in the brave Alex (and thank goodness he wasn't prosecuted for it). To me the fear is not of dying, but of ending up like my colleague's mum with no dignity and being remembered that way instead of who you were.

        Phew! A deep book Caz and so unexpected.

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      • rosyroo
      • Rosyroo February 19, 2014 9:36 AM

        I really enjoyed this book too and I’ve loved reading all your reviews on it! The title of the book didn’t exactly scream “good book” to me but it really was a hidden gem. Aunty Jane, that’s so interesting that you make the comparison between us putting pets down as it’s the humane thing to do so that they do not suffer or feel pain, yet the same principle is completely illegal for humans. When put like that it seems absurd, and I think you’re right that what happened with Mr Peterson’s dog was not put in there by accident by the author. I agree with Kristen that we should be able to choose how we die to make it more dignified and better for everyone- being in pain and having no control over your body is a horrible end to life and one that’s unfair on the person and their relatives. So, in answer to your question Caz, yes I think Mr Peterson did the right thing but it’s just a shame that he and Alex had to go to such lengths to do it. Legalising the practice here would have saved Alex (a child) from having to go through such a traumatic ordeal.

        I think this book is more clear cut on that issue than another I’ve read ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes (I would recommend that book too), because of Mr Peterson’s age and situation. He is coming to the end of his life naturally anyway and his partner has already passed away, and he has no other family (even his dog is gone!) and so it’s easy to accept that he should die the way he wants as there’s no one left behind, accept for Alex of course.

        This book has had an effect on me and made me think about death a bit more (without wanting to sound morbid!). I too liked the quote that it is dying we fear, not death. It made me realise that death is just like going to sleep, and something that we won’t know about, and there’s no point in stressing about it. I agree with mum that the thought of ending up in such an undignified way is horrible, and I’d hate to be remembered like that.

        Another great choice Caz!

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