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
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.