DIVERSE BOOK REVIEW: At The Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

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Quick Facts: 

  • my rating: 4 stars
  • published by: Simon Pulse
  • genres: sci-fi, lgbt+, young adult, contemorary
  • diverse: yes

 

Synopsis:

Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since the second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.

More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.

Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy and soon suspects that something else is going on—that the universe is shrinking.

When Ozzie is paired up with the reclusive and secretive Calvin for a physics project, it’s hard for him to deny the feelings that develop between them, even if he still loves Tommy.

But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy—that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as possible.

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When I read Shaun David Hutchinson’s 2016 release, We Are the Ants, I was mesmerised with just about everything. The writing style was beautiful, when possessed a hard cynical edge that seemed realistic of a teenage narrator. The subject matter was intense, but dealt with with the utmost care. The characters weren’t perfect, but they were complex and relatable and meaningful. I couldn’t have wanted more from a book, it was a perfect release for me. I cried, I laughed, I immediately went and bought myself the hardcover (a big book honour from me)

So I was VERY EXCITED to read his new book, a sci-fi contemporary following a boy named Oswald Pinkerton (Ozzie) who’s boyfriend Tommy has mysteriously disappeared. I was expecting big things, great thing. I was expecting maybe too much. Which is entirely my fault and nothing to do with Shaun David Hutchinson himself.

I maybe didn’t love this quite as much as I loved We Are the Ants – but I still loved it all the same. It features some of the same aspects that drew me into We Are the Ants in the first place – an honest look at mental illness and living as a gay teenager, beautiful prose, a sci-fi twist and raw emotion.

I found At the Edge of the Universe a much harder read then We Are the Ants – the issues and themes covered are definitely heavy and you can practically feel the weight the characters are bearing. It’s very gritty reading, but I think the issues were dealt with very gracefully and carefully. The characters are incredibly complex, and very very flawed – but while their choices may not be the best in each circumstance, I like that it was clear they weren’t endorsed out of text. I also liked there is genuine growth for these characters, and that despite the truly horrible circumstances these characters are enduring, the ending is relatively happy.

The prose, as expected, is beautiful. Shaun David Hutchinson has a very poetic and lyrical style, but it’s very simple and not bogged down in overly flowery writing. I genuinely enjoy his writing so much.

The diversity is also a real highlight for me. The main character, Ozzie, is gay. His mysteriously missing boyfriend Tommy is also gay, and biracial, with one black parent and one white parent. Lua, Ozzie’s best friend, is gender-fluid, and referred to with varying (always respectful) pronouns throughout the book. Ozzie’s other friend Dustin is asexual and Chinese American. Another character, Calvin, who Ozzie has a romance with, is bisexual. Diversity is highlighted positively throughout the book, and while the characters do experience realistic hardship for their identities, it is clear that this isn’t endorsed or promoted.

“I didn’t even need to check my phone to know that the universe had shrunk again, and the stars had vanished. No. They hadn’t vanished. I’d given them away to someone who hadn’t deserved them, and I’d never get them back.”

My main issues with this book is the ending, and the beginning. It took me a while to get into this, with the beginning being a little meandering and slow-paced. It took a while for me to figure out in what direction the book was going. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of the final act, I don’t think I really “got” the ending and I felt a little unsatisfied with some of the ending.

I was also a little irked about the ableism in this book – a character who cannot walk is referred to as “broken” and laments how no one will ever love him or want to be with him when he is a paraplegic. This was never challenged, and in the end there was a kind of “cure-all” for his situation.

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Shaun David Hutchinson has earned a spot on my instant buy list. At the Edge of the Universe is written with the same raw emotion, quirkiness and hard grit that made me fall in love with his stories. He constantly presents his readers with flawed, complex characters who must exist in incredibly difficult, but honest situations.

I love his books, and while this one didn’t blow me away as much as We Are the Ants did, it’s still a beautiful book. It’ brutal and hard in places, but I think it is always honest and the narrative is layered I love Hutchinson’s brand of sci-fi contemporary, and if you have enjoyed his previous books there will definitely be something for you here. If you haven’t picked up one yet, I implore you too. At the Edge of the Universe would be a good place to start.


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