x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Book review: tried-and-true template on adolescent angst

In Gavin Extence's The Universe vs Alex Woods, an awkward teenager navigates alone through the sticky maze of peer pressure and bullying.

The Universe vs Alex Woods
Gavin Extence
Hodder & Stoughton

It's no secret that all adolescent awakening stories run on the same formula, more or less. For his debut, Gavin Extence doesn't seem to stray too far from the standard coming-of-age template: an awkward teenage protagonist navigates alone through the sticky maze of peer pressure and bullying until a chance encounter sets him down a path he'd never imagined.

Which brings us to the end of Alex Woods' journey, ironically also the book's opening chapter. Caught at a police check in a car with a dead man's ashes in an urn on the passenger seat and a stash of marijuana under the dashboard, his prospects appear anything but hopeful.

When questioned further by the authorities, however, Alex deigns to return to how it all started with a meteorite, a vandalised greenhouse, a promise made to an unlikely friend, and Kurt Vonnegut.

For all its quirks, The Universe vs Alex Woods is a simple tale, refreshed by the author's focus on his main character's cerebral development alongside his budding maturity as he progresses to adulthood. Judging by the strength of his first novel, it also promises a lot more to come.