Book Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

Posted July 11, 2013 by Kara in book review, Kara / 21 Comments

Book Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin ExtenceThe Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
Published by Redhook on June 25th, 2013
Genres: adult, contemporary
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: BEA
Buy on Amazon
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three-stars

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn't had the easiest childhood.
But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing ...
Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

There is so much hype around this book. When I was able to pick up a copy at BEA, I was really excited. And they practically just shoved it in my hands. Redhook is a new imprint and it seems like they have a lot of good books coming out. The cool thing is they are only publishing one a month. So I am assuming this is their June release. I will definitely be following this publisher and watching to see what they do. As for The Universe Versus Alex Woods, it was good but it didn’t quite connect with me in a way I was hoping it would. Which is a shame as it does seem to be getting a lot of love out there. Unfortunately, I have quite a few criticisms to discuss. But first, let’s get the good out of the way.


I loved the writing. I really did. Alex has an amazing and distinct voice and he was an adorable, sweet, strong, intelligent character. There were times he annoyed me and went off on a tangent and I wanted him to get to the point. That was frustrating and not enjoyable, to be honest, but aside from that I liked him quite a bit. Thing is though, the way this book is written makes me feel like I should have been more emotionally involved as I was. There is a very sweet relationship between Alex and Mr. Peterson, the town curmudgeon, who become friends and take care of each other. Knowing myself and how I normally get attached to the older characters, I didn’t feel as engaged with Mr. Peterson as I wanted to. In fact, his character was kind of flat. Towards the end, when the book got moving, I felt more, but by then it felt a little too late.

This book is definitely a study in characters. Though there is a plot, it doesn’t seem to be the main focus and that was kind of disappointing, because with that wonderful blurb up there, I expected the book to be a bit more exciting than it was. Though it was enough to engage me, I did find myself kind of bored more often than not. I feel really bad because I feel like I am the only person on the internet that didn’t rave about this book. Usually I agree with the masses, and though I think there was a lot of good and unique here, ultimately I was left feeling underwhelmed. 

Also, once again based on the blurb, I expected this book to be a lot funnier than it was. There were times I felt it was trying too hard. There were lines that I feel that were supposed to be funny but absolutely weren’t. Not eye-rolling bad or anything but just…BLAH.

It should be at this point as well that I mention I read this while on vacation and wasn’t able to write a comprehensive review at the time due to crappy internet access, and so a lot of the details I probably should have covered in this review I have forgotten. I could blame that on the book, but I won’t…completely. Fact is, my memory stinks when it comes to remembering books. But…if it is super special, I WILL remember the most important parts. 

I read another book with a similar voice that most readers connected with and once again I did not. That was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. I feel like I was the only one that missed the point of that book as well. So I should just stay away from books with an awkward teenage male voice. Or maybe there will be a special one someday that really blows my mind. Until that day…

It really is a powerful book though that covers a lot of important topics and themes.

 

21 responses to “Book Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

  1. I read and liked this book a lot but really struggled to write a review of it. I’m not even entirely sure how best to capture the plot. I think you do a good job here conveying how you felt while reading.

  2. That’s so funny, I didn’t really get THE CURIOUS INCIDENT… either! It’s one of those weird hyped books that become bestsellers for no discernible reason! They become popular because it’s fashionable or something, who knows. I thought it was just ok.

    I probably don’t have time to read this book anyway, so it’s a good thing I read your review!

  3. I’m going to admit that this book really doesn’t appeal to me at all…and even less so now. I can really enjoy the occasional awkward male voice (Winger comes to mind–although he’s more funny than awkward, I guess). I’ll have to keep my eyes open for other Redhook books though if they have some good titles coming out. Great review! I hope you had fun on vacation!

  4. Amy

    I have been seeing this one around a lot lately and have been curious about it. I don’t know if it’s my type of book, but I might try it sometime. Great review. Sorry you didn’t like it as much as you wanted.

  5. I started this one and got kinda bored and wandered off. It just didn’t grab me from the beginning, although I’m not writing it off altogether. Maybe these kind of books are so depenedent on connecting with the characters, that if you don’t it’s just not going to be mind-blowing?

    • I don’t blame you. I think I might have DNFed it right off if it had not been a travel book. I read it in a car for many hours. And yeah, I agree. It’s definitely a character driven novel. If you don’t connect to the characters, it’s not gonna work.

  6. “So I should just stay away from books with an awkward teenage male voice.” Lol. That’s one way of putting it, but I, too, from the summary, would have expected more plot and for the humor to work well. I am more of a fan of character-driven than plot-driven stories, so it’s not completely disappointing that there’s more emphasis on characters than plot, and it’s encouraging that the writing was engaging. Perhaps another story from the author? Sorry that you didn’t enjoy this one as much :(. I’ve definitely been on the opposite side of the hype quite a few times (I hope that’s not happening for you now again as it says you’re reading The Bone Season).

    • I LOVEEEE character driven novels. But I need to connect with the characters or else it’s a big huge mess! I hope you have better luck with it. And yes, I really enjoyed The Bone Season.

  7. You’re not the only one, Kara!

    At first I thought I didn’t like this book because the blurb kind of led me to expect it’d be another type of book. I was expecting either overt satire or magical realism and this novel really had neither.

  8. This is one of the books that disappeared from box 2, and I think I’m pretty okay with that. It sounds like it really works for some people, but I’m not really feeling the humor that falls flat. Also, I’m not sure if I want another book like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I ended up liking it, but…more? Not needed for me.

    • I hear you. It wasn’t nearly as special as I was hoping it would be. This was one of the ones I was looking forward to the most and it really ended up letting me down.

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