At the Edge of the Universe

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
At the Edge of the Universe Book Poster Image
Teen seeks missing boyfriend in existential coming-of-ager.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Short explanations of some physics theories about the size and nature of the universe. Some physics principles relating to roller coasters and information about what physical pain does to some parts of the brain. Author's note talks about mental illness, the importance of talking to someone, and asking for help. Contact information provided for a national suicide prevention hotline and for the Trevor Project.

Positive Messages

Making choices about your life is scary because the wrong one might close a door behind you. But much worse is never going through the door at all. You have to face the uncertainty to see what's on the other side; it might be exactly where you're supposed to be. Life goes on, and you can either make the best of it or spend it wishing for what you might never have.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ozzie is full of conflicting feelings. He's a good kid who does well in school, but he's going through some difficulties, so he's pretty self-centered. He learns that not everything is about him and so becomes a better friend, gets along better with his parents, and gets better at coping with change. Friends Lua and Dustin help keep him balanced and point out when he's wrong. Brother Renny is close and has a mature outlook that helps Ozzie. Love interest Calvin has emotional problems that he copes with by cutting himself. He stops and eventually gets the help he needs.

Violence

Ozzie sees signs that Tommy's father beats him. A violent movie scene is described and mentions a bloody face. Calvin cuts himself; it's described briefly, and blood is mentioned. A past fight with punching and knocked-out teeth. Short description of a method of torture and execution during the Salem witch trials involving suffocation by placing heavier and heavier weights on the victim's chest. Confrontation with a bully leads to fingers getting slammed in a car door with broken bones and misshapen fingers. A teen was sexually involved with a school coach who drugged the teen so he wouldn't feel pain; the teen remembers being paralyzed while the coach did things to him. A character sees a plane crash with short descriptions of burning and panic at the airport. Reference to Jerry Sandusky. Mention of prison rape. Author's note mentions his suicide attempt at 19 and that he used to cut himself; contact information is provided for suicide prevention and the Trevor Project. 

Sex

Teens in long-term relationships have sex two or three times. Nothing's described, but the phrases "going down on" and "savage crescendo" are used. Some kissing, hand-holding, and making out, including taking clothes off, groping, and kissing chest, stomach, and hips. Some talk about "whacking it." A rumor from the past about giving a hand job. An offhand reference to scouring the web for a pornographic movie. A prominent character is gender-fluid, sometimes looking like a girl, sometimes like a boy. All the sexual relationships in the book are same-sex, but homosexuality itself isn't a topic. The characters don't directly talk about it, there's no homophobia, same-sex couples attend the prom.

Language

"Ass," "asshole," "s--t," "motherf--ker," "slut," "pr--k," "d--k,", "f--ked," and "crap." Having "a boner" or "a hard-on" for something mentioned a couple times as slang for liking or being good at something. Giving the finger. A bully calls people names.

Consumerism

A few restaurant chains and food products for location or character.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink at a party, and Ozzie downs a red cup of vodka and juice. Beer cans are scattered around an abusive father's yard. One of Ozzie's friends is a stoner, frequently high, but also gets straight A's and is class valedictorian. Someone mentions firing up "a bowl," and teens share a three-foot bong at a party. A teacher who sexually molested students had Valium, Rohypnol, and MDMA in his home. A therapist admits to taking Adderall in college to be able to make it through all the late-night studying but says the price she paid was too high.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shaun David Hutchinson's At the Edge of the Universe is about high school senior Ozzie as he tries to find his boyfriend Tommy, who's mysteriously disappeared. Occasional profanity includes "f--k," "pr--k," "d--k," and "s--t." Sexy stuff is infrequent, with some kissing, hand-holding, making out, and a couple of instances of teens having sex that are not directly narrated. All the sexual relationships in the book are same-sex, but homosexuality itself isn't a topic. A new friend of Ozzie's was sexually involved with a teacher who drugged and sexually abused the teen. Ozzie discovers the teen cuts himself as a way of coping. Another teen has injuries from being beaten by his father, and Ozzie is conflicted about whether to notify authorities. The novel has overall positive messages about facing uncertainty, making choices instead of hiding away, and choosing to make the most out of what you have instead of grumbling about what you don't.

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What's the story?

In AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE, Ozzie and Tommy have been best friends since grade school and boyfriends since middle school. Now, in their senior year, Tommy has disappeared without a trace. Ozzie will do anything or go anywhere to find Tommy. But he's also the only person in the world who remembers that Tommy existed. Not Ozzie's family, not any of their school friends, not even Tommy's family have the foggiest idea who it is Ozzie's looking for. Oh, and the universe is shrinking. Can Ozzie find Tommy before he and the universe disappear into the void?

Is it any good?

Author Shaun David Hutchinson offers another angsty but compelling teen hero in Ozzie Pinkerton. At the Edge of the Universe combines Ozzie's efforts to face life's biggest changes with the fantasy element of a shrinking universe. The characters are compelling and well developed, and it's refreshing that their sexual orientation, gender identity, or even race aren't what defines them or even the most interesting things about them.

Although hefty at just under 500 pages, the story is well structured, and the frequent but small revelations and hints keep the pages turning. Teens who're thinking about how they'll face the challenges of entering adulthood and leaving childhood behind will easily relate to Ozzie and have a lot to think about comparing their own challenges and attitudes as they face the unknown.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strong language in At the Edge of the Universe. Does it seem realistic? Is it necessary? Why, or why not?

  • How does the author keep sexual orientation, gender identity, and even race from defining the characters? Would the story or the characters be any different if Ozzie were looking for a lost girlfriend? Why, or why not? 

  • How well do you think the fantasy element mixes with the realistic setting? 

Book details

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