Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

by Preston Norton

This might just be the most hopeful YA I’d read in a long, long time. What started as a ‘stereotypical’ high school story became everything but, when the school ‘jock’ has a near-death experience and claims God needs him and the school ‘loser’ Neanderthal to turn everything around. Every character started jumping from the page, so complex and fully realized that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all. A beautiful book to rekindle your hope in humanity!

Summary

36105772Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he’s so enormous-6’6″ and 250 pounds to be exact. He has no one at school and life in his trailer park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother’s suicide.

There’s no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there’s only one person who can help: Neanderthal.

To his own surprise, Cliff says he’s in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS–Cliff feels like he’s part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn’t as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they’ve completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined.

Musings

As I mentioned above, my first reaction when starting this read was to roll my eyes at all the High School clichés. You have the outcast who lives in a trailer park (with an abusive father), the popular jocks, the bullies, weird nerds, drug dealing teens…but then everything changes when Quarterback Aaron wakes up from his coma. He has seen the face of God – who looks remarkably like Morgan Freeman – and God has given him a list to change all this. And he specifically asked for Cliff’s help.

The author takes all these familiar YA elements and turns them upside down, making Cliff one of the most stand out characters I have ever read in contemporary YA. Still reeling from the suicide of his brother, with many questions he will never get the answer to, he joins Aaron in their mission to change the school. At times, the writing feels a lot like John Green’s, and can really pack an emotional punch; the characters are complex and have so much dimension you feel like you can really know them. It allows for the author to surprise you in so many ways.

It’s surprising in its (un)predictability.  As a reader of a LOT of YAs, it’s evident an author cannot escape the formulaic nature of high school contemporaries. The way the author deftly manages to pull twists out of this is astounding. At many times I found myself wowed by the depth of the characters: how Cliff remains so hopefully through everything, how Aaron canbe such a good person and friend, how Teagan… no spoilers, I’m just still in awe!

It’s honest, irreverent, sweet, funny, incredibly sad, and still hopeful. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is an absolute must for fans of  YA Contemporary. It’s at times brutally honest, yet so hopeful and relatable that you can’t put it down. Give yourself a mental hug and read this book.

“You know what the most dystopian idea in the world is to me?” I asked. “The idea that our feelings don’t matter. We might as well be robots.”

Neanderthal

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History is All You Left Me

by Adam Silvera


Have you ever thought about how one typo can change the
narrative and perspective of an entire novel? Not even a 30139283large typo, just one number accidentally clicked instead of the adjacent key. Something so simple would typically be glossed over, forgotten within a page or two. But sometimes it is placed in just the wrong spot that it changes everything. *

It’s just like an event that never should have happened. It interrupts and rips you out of your expected future. That is exactly what is happening to Griffin.

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of History is All You Left Me, which was perfect because I am fully intending on ordering it for the library.

Summary

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

 

The first thing I have to say about this book has to be: YESSSS, GIVE ME THAT REPRESENTATION. At the core, we have our gay main character who suffers from compulsions and his bisexual ex-boyfriend. While it does mention the third in their squad is African-American, it never mentions the race of either Griffin or Theo. None of the characters come off as being token or thrown in there just to get the representation vote; they’re all very developed and real.

I have never been struck so much by a teenage narrator as I was by Griffin. He is most certainly seventeen, with the ounce of pretentiousness and geeky inclinations that remind me of myself as a teen. His voice is strong, as it is with the rest of the cast: Theo, Jackson, and Wade especially.
Wade, by far, was my favorite character. Even with Griff’s love for Cedric Diggory and Theo’s peculiar sundial watch, I really adored how genuine of a person Wade remained in the novel.

The pacing of this novel was perfect. It constantly swapped back and forth from when Theo and Griffin were together to the new reality of Griffin being single. These are easily distinguished because the date is written at the beginning of each chapter title. It made the three hundred pages fly by in two enjoyable sittings.

I’m certain teens will relate to Griff’s story, even with all the mistakes he makes. The character development is wonderful and left me satisfied. You may not be able to get this book by Christmas, but it releases early next year.

*if you want to know more about this typo, just let me know! It was an interesting situation.

Ivory and Bone

by Julie Esbaugh

I bought this book – pre-ordered it, in fact – manths back, when I heard about how it was a YA set in the prehistoric era. Woopee! Honestly the concept alone was what got me: I don’t think I know of any books like that, not what to expect from them. I went into this book knowing only one thing: we’ve travelled back to the age of the mammoth…

Summary

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Hunting, gathering, and keeping his family safe—that’s the life seventeen-year-old Kol knows. Then bold, enigmatic Mya arrives from the south with her family, and Kol is captivated. He wants her to like and trust him, but any hopes of impressing her are ruined when he makes a careless—and nearly grave—mistake. However, there’s something more to Mya’s cool disdain…a history wrought with loss that comes to light when another clan arrives. With them is Lo, an enemy from Mya’s past who Mya swears has ulterior motives.
As Kol gets to know Lo, tensions between Mya and Lo escalate until violence erupts. Faced with shattering losses, Kol is forced to question every person he’s trusted. One thing is for sure: this was a war that Mya or Lo—Kol doesn’t know which—had been planning all along.

Musings

My first thought while reading this book was: wait, this is a little like Pride and Prejudice! And it turns out that’s what the author intended, I just avoided reading any blurb so as to avoid any spoilers, and didn’t see that until I was done. So I have to give cuddos for the author for having made that subtle enough to not be super evident,  but enough for the reader to catch.

However, this version of Pride and Prejudice is told with the genders reversed, and entirely in second person. The main character, Kol, is telling this story to you, Mya, for reasons that become apparent in the last third of the book. As of such, Kol is un unreliable narrator, because he just jumps to conclusions so quickly. Remind you of anyone?

Set in the Neolithic era (10,000-4,500 BC), we follow the lives of a hunter gatherer society. Kol’s clan is small, but they act as a unit, a family. They hunt mammoth and seal together, one of his brothers is a musician, they have art,  basic medicine, and lead rather happy lives. Their interaction with other clans is limited, so when they meet their neighbors to the south, they’re desperate to get along. But their past is not easily put behind them.

One of the main things people fault with this novel is just how this all revolves around misunderstandings. Why don’t people just come out and say what they mean? Honestly that’s something that bothered me in the original P&P, so i think it’s an excusable plot point here.

While the pacing is slow until the last third, I quite liked the world building, and it didn’t stop the novel from being a fast read. It felt incredibly immersive, and the author has a style that’s really evocative. It played on the senses, making me see and feel the things that were there.

Now there was a bit more romance than I was into, but it was really well done. Kol and Mya’s relationship mirrors that of Darcy and Elizabeth, only with the genders reversed. Mya is a mystery, and we’re excited to learn more about her. And this is far from being a traditional take on a love story – I mean, we’re 12,000 years before the regency period, so life is a little different: a little more equal, a little less homophobic, and with a whole lot more hunting.

All in all, a very good read. I enjoyed being brought into the story, and will very likely read it again, knowing what I know now. A great piece of YA fiction.