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The Universe Versus Alex Woods
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a funny, moving, and well-executed coming-of-age story set in England that addresses some potentially disturbing issues, including marijuana use and assisted suicide. In keeping his promise to dying American Vietnam vet Mr. Peterson, 17-year-old British protagonist Alex breaks a number of laws, but throughout the book he exhibits a commendable commitment to doing what's right, rather than what's merely allowed. While the sexual content is extremely low, the use of objectionable language is fairly high, though usually not by the young protagonist (he does call someone a "c--t" and is promptly punished for it). Supporting characters are fairly free with their swearing, with ample instances of "f--k" and lesser expletives like "damn," "hell," "piss" and "bastard."
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What's the story?
THE UNIVERSE VERSUS ALEX WOODS opens with the 17-year-old British protagonist detained at the Dover border with 113 grams of marijuana in his vehicle's glove compartment and an urn full of human ashes on the front seat. The narrative then backtracks to the previously most significant event in Alex's young life, the day he was struck by a meteorite. The blow left him with temporal lobe epilepsy, which made him even more of an outsider. After he takes the blame for some destruction on a neighbor's property, Alex develops a friendship with Mr. Peterson, a rather secretive and stubborn older man, and winds up making a promise that he will do almost anything to keep.
Is it any good?
The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a funny and affecting coming-of-age novel, addressing weighty issues with humor, sensitivity, and insight. Alex is a prickly but ultimately very likeable protagonist, with a unique outlook on life. The novel pays homage to iconoclastic science fiction/literary writer Kurt Vonnegut, but British author Gavin Extence doesn't push the influence too hard. All in all, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a winner for older teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Familes can talk about how teens who prefer solitary pursuits are sometimes bullied. Why do you think that is? What can they do to protect themselves and others?
Why do you think coming-of-age stories, like The Universe Versus Alex Woods, are popular with teens? What others have you read? What makes an effective coming-of-age novel?
What are the pros and cons of assisted suicide? What kinds of safeguards need to be in place to protect patients and their families?
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