Saturday 4 November 2017

Review: Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe

Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe by Preston Norton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here's the premise: Cliff Hubbard is a bit of a social retard. (Okay, that's probably not PC, but it's what kids would say). He's over six foot and, at 250 pounds is, hugely obese. His brother, also his best friend, has recently committed suicide; he lives in a trailer park; his father is an alcoholic; and he is teased constantly.

Basically, life's not very good.

Then, something strange happens. Aaron Zimmerman, massively cool jock who is one of Cliff's key tormentors - perhaps even the originator of his nickname 'Neanderthal' - has a boating accident. Everyone assumes he's going to die. Cliff has sort of mixed feelings about this: it's great he's no longer around, but he had been really determined to kick his butt, and if Aaron dies this sort of mucks up that plan.

But Aaron mucks up Cliff's plan further: he comes out of his coma, and talks to Cliff. An actual conversation, using his name, and being polite and everything. What is going on with the universe? Aaron claims he saw God and God gave him a list of things to do make Happy Valley High School suck less. Where does Cliff come in? God said that Aaron had to have Cliff as his side-kick. Cliff does get on board, suspiciously, but it seems like this magic list is doing more damage than good. Is Aaron just suffering from concussion? A logical conclusion, but, as the pair spend more time together, it's not something Cliff wants to believe. Surely, one person, just one, could like him for who he is without having sustained a massive brain injury.

Things sure get complicated...

I wanted to like this book; I really did. It sounded like fun - a quick read, a quick laugh, with the
Preston Norton
obligatory message that all YA books have these days. But... I just... didn't.

It's sort of hard to pinpoint why. One problem is it has a very slow start and I was getting pretty bored. But that wasn't all of it, obviously. The plot just didn't work. And I think the main problem was the characterisation, specifically, of Cliff. He's six foot and weighs 250 pounds. That's kind of the limit to his character. Okay, so there was a bit more character development than that, but really - for being such a ginormous size - he was a pretty flat character. And there's a relationship with a girl that really really doesn't work. It's unbelievable, out of character, unlikely, cringeworthy... just wrong.

I liked the references to '2001: A Space Odyssey.' That gets some points from me. But when the book tries to be all philosophical, I just got that squirmy feeling when someone's misjudged a situation and everyone feels all awkward. For example, Cliff's older brother said: "Life isn't just existing... It's a door. Don't you want to know what's on the other side? It just... well, it doesn't work. Not in this book.

I suppose I should give Norton some credit for the 'nod' to the LGBTQ community, but that's all it was: a nod. It didn't feel real. It felt like it was inserted into the book because that's what's 'in' in modern YA fiction at the moment, not because it meant anything to the author.

Like I said, I wanted to like it, and I persevered, but it was really disatisfying. By all means, go ahead and read it - I'd love to hear some positive reviews and maybe find out what I've missed, but - for me - this is a no.

Sorry Norton. Maybe I'll like your next book?

Thank you to NetGalley and Disney/Hyperion for the ARC copy to read. All thoughts and opinions are mine. This book will be released on May 22nd 2018.

Now this is definitely cooler. Crazy, but great. If you haven't watched it, you really should.

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