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The Universe Versus Alex Woods Hardcover – June 25, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Redhook (June 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316246573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316246576
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (239 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013: Quirky only begins to describe this incredibly touching tale of an epileptic British misfit science geek who befriends an aging American Vietnam War vet. As the book begins, Alex is a teenage boy, arrested and being questioned by the authorities. What happened? How did he get here? Who is this kid? Do we even like him? Debut novelist Gavin Extence dangles these questions before us, then cleverly leads us backwards in order to answer them. The story (and therefore our journey) starts years before, when young Alex was randomly, life-alteringly struck in the head by a meteorite, rendering him both a scientific celebrity and a school yard outcast. Kurt Vonnegut's influence is obvious within specific plot points, and is also noticeable in Extence's writing, where he strikes a balance of describing tragic events with comedic style, wrapping his seriousness within subtle absurdity. Specifically, his attention to bullying is distinct, yet unsanctimonious. By the time we're back in the interrogation room, our questions about Alex have been well answered, but a bigger question demands our attention: How far would you go for a friend? --Robin A. Rothman

Review

"The great joy of this quirky novel is Alex Woods, an English boy who's been hit by a meteorite. Alex recounts what follows with charm and wit, even when it includes seizures, bullying and the grave illness of his best friend, an old man. Pulsing with humor and insight, this book is a delight."—People Magazine

"[An] incredibly touching tale... [Extence] strikes a balance of describing tragic events with comedic style, wrapping his seriousness with subtle absurdity."—Amazon.com (Best Book of the Month, July 2103)

"Warm and funny and tragic and uplifting all in one. Extence should be on everyone's radar."—Jasper Fforde

"Perfectly crafted and beautifully written... The Universe Versus Alex Woods may be a debut novel but it is an outstanding novel by any standards. Unforgettable."—Red (UK)

"With wit and warmth, Gavin Extence shines a light on one of the darkest, most difficult subjects of our times."—Sunday Express

"Mark Haddon meets Kurt Vonnegut."—Observer (UK)

"A bittersweet, cross-audience charmer, this debut novel will appeal to guys, YA readers, and Vonnegut and coming-of-age fiction fans."—Library Journal

"Extence's engaging coming-of-age debut skillfully balances light and dark, laughter and tears."—Publisher's Weekly (Starred review)

"The Universe Versus Alex Woods will put you through the wringer. But oh, what a wringer!"—NPR Books -- Included on their "5 Great Summer Reads for Teens" List

"[The Universe Versus Alex Woods is] done in a dark, offbeat style that brings to mind the characters' hero, the literary giant Kurt Vonnegut"—New York Post

"Clever storytelling, winning characters and nuanced rhythm... Alex is a precocious, endearing, infuriating and unexpectedly brilliant teenager, and he and his indelible voice are incapable of sticking on the road most traveled. Lucky us: We get to go along for the (sometimes bumpy) ride."—Denver Post

"The Universe Versus Alex Woods is the story of how misfit Alex comes to befriend an elderly American curmudgeon, learns to cultivate marijuana and develops a deep appreciation for the work of Kurt Vonnegut. It's a wonderful coming-of-age story, delivered in an offhand casual style that belies the deeply moral concerns of the author."—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"Precocious and awkward, Alex Woods truly is a welcome addition to the literary world."—Charleston City Paper

"If you enjoy interesting and unique experiences, you will find this to be the must-read of the summer...[The Universe Versus Alex Woods] is a must-have for your library, and a treat for both the young, as well as the young at heart. There is some very deep subject matter discussed, yet the end result is extraordinary. Gavin Extence is an author to watch for."—Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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Customer Reviews

Interesting Characters, funny and well written.
Charmaine Nicholson
Or maybe I should just put it this way: It's been a long time since I've read a book that has made me feel like I do now after finishing this one.
Monica J. Kern
Other characters are very believable and beautifully portrayed, and all have their own very distinctive and recognisable traits and voices.
Sid Nuncius

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Sid Nuncius TOP 100 REVIEWER on February 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I thought this was a terrific book. It is funny, thoughtful, touching and profound in its way, and I found it utterly engrossing as a story. It is hard to give any account of the plot without giving away more that I would have liked to know before I started, but it is narrated by Alex, a serious, studious seventeen-year-old in England. He forms an unlikely friendship which leads him in a very unexpected and challenging direction - which sounds thoroughly corny, sentimental and cliché-ed, and isn't any of those things. It is an engaging, funny and touching story with some important things to say.

Alex has a fantastically well-realised narrative voice, with very penetrating observations to make about lots of things, all of which are deadpan and as a result are often funny as well as being very shrewd. For example, of his mother, a clairvoyant, he says: "...my mother revealed that she'd foreseen the entire catastrophe. Of course, she didn't realise that she'd foreseen the entire catastrophe until after it had happened." There are many examples of this sort of thing, and I loved it. I found echoes of Mark Haddon's The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime in Alex's voice, which is high praise indeed. Other characters are very believable and beautifully portrayed, and all have their own very distinctive and recognisable traits and voices. The story is excellently structured and paced, and I found myself utterly bound up in this book and it eventually hijacked my day because I couldn't bear not to finish it.

This is one of the best and most memorable books I have read for some time - very warmly recommended indeed.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Brett H TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a quite extraordinary book. I think it is fair to say that had I read a full synopsis of the content before I started reading I would probably not have bothered since it is certainly not the sort of book I would expect to enjoy. This would have been a big mistake and very much my loss as this is an unusual story which gets the attention at the outset and is a fascinating read throughout.

I will not go into much detail on the story as there is a danger here of spoiling it for future readers. However, the main plot is about an unlikely friendship between Alex Woods, who is at school, and an elderly American whom he meets, Mr Peterson. It covers a period of about five years from when Alex is 12 to aged 17. Alex is from an unusual background, having a witch for a mother and having also being in the unlikely position of having survived being hit by a meteorite. Mr Peterson is a dour, veteran of the Vietnam War. The relationship between them builds very gradually but is complex and very meaningful.

This is a tale which is quite poignant in parts, but with plenty of humor mixed in. The end manages to be both sad and uplifting which is quite a difficult feat for an author to accomplish. Certainly I felt at the end that I would have liked to be able to read more in the same vein, but this book is very much a one off so it is unlikely that there will be more. However, it is certainly a read which most will enjoy and certainly I found myself thinking about the issues raised once I had finished, which is always a sign of a story which has had quite an impact.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Walter in Austin on July 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If Gavin Extence keeps writing and developing as a fiction author, I'm very excited to see where his imagination takes him (and us). This first book is a good start, but is most significant for me as a harbinger of things to come.

"The Universe Versus Alex Woods" is very episodic.....this happens, then that, then this, etc. For this style of book to be stellar, the magic in the style of writing itself has to carry things. Kurt Vonnegut (Extence's self-proclaimed hero) was a master of sparkling, wonderous writing. Even though Vonnegut's books had more wild flights of fancy than just a meteorite hitting someone (which is the one fanciful conceit of "...Woods"), I always felt like he could have written about almost anything and still had me enthralled, through the sheer wonder of his writing style. I have every reason to believe that Extence is going to reach that type of writing in his career, probably sooner rather than later, but he isn't there yet in this, his first novel.

The characters are potentially interesting, but not fully realized. Ripe plot developments are teed up, but never really pursued. Overall, the read is pleasant and I did enjoy the book. But I realized about a third of the way through that this is an author I'm likely to love in the future, but he hasn't put it all together yet. I sense there may be a much more interesting and idiosyncratic writer underneath this book, waiting to get out. I hope Extence lets him roam free and wild for the next one. I look forward to seeing where this talented and intelligent writer takes his craft.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mel B. on June 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This story begins with an ending. You're not quite sure where the protagonist is coming from -- he's young and clearly in a lot of trouble with the police. I was worried that Alex -- called Lex by his mother, and not entirely coincidentally also bald -- would turn to an unsympathetic character. I hate those -- people who are horrible and make terrible decisions. But no, Alex, while making a series of decisions not everyone agrees with, is an entirely moral and compassionate young man.

He's notorious because as a young boy, he was hit by a meteor and recovered after a two week coma, but not without consequences. He gets severe epilepsy, enough that it keeps him out of school for a year. Then he goes to school where he's bullied because he's different; isn't that the way?

I like how Alex figures stuff out and often lists it -- such as ways he doesn't fit in or how his friend Mr. Peterson needs help making a critical decision.

What I appreciated is that our precocious protagonist is real. He makes mistakes that seem genuine -- you could easily have made them. He also in the process of learning about life and literature, about how to control his own unsound brain and how watching someone he loves die.

I love that a major thread of the book is Kurt Vonnegut, absurdity, and secular humanism. I totally want to join The Secular Church of Kurt Vonnegut.

Alex learns from his friend, Mr. Peterson, an irascible war veteran who'd rather be left alone. Alex and Mr. Peterson rail against each other in a way that's hilarious -- Alex won't bring him certain kinds of music in the hospital, because he's not ready for it.

This book was a library ebook loan, and I loved it so much that I bought it. That's the highest praise, trust me.
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