Title: At the Edge of the Universe
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Length: 304 Pages
Category: Young Adult
At a Glance: This novel, like life itself, is a roller coaster. And that’s a metaphor in the story that I can reveal without spoiling this lovely bit of Young Adult fiction.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: From the author of We Are the Ants and The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes the heartbreaking story of a boy who believes the universe is slowly shrinking as things he remembers are being erased from others’ memories.
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 he suspects that something else is going on: that the universe is shrinking.
When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing 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 it takes to get his boyfriend back.
Review: Shaun David Hutchinson’s The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is one of the best books I read last year, and is also right up there at the top of the list of my favorite Young Adult novels. Hutchinson has a way with allegory that transcends his target demographic and speaks to that once awkward and pained teenager in all of us. Once again, he does so with great success in At the Edge of the Universe, and, once again, with endearing and real characters who represent a diverse world.
As Andrew Brawley was a metaphor for the five stages of grief, At the Edge of the Universe is also a beautiful and often painful journey through the symbolism of Oswald Pinkerton’s shrinking world. What that journey represents, however, you’ll have to discover for yourself. If I were to reveal it to you, it would spoil the entire reading experience and I don’t want to do that, but suffice it to say that I questioned Ozzie’s sanity right along with his parents and the alphabet soup of therapists he makes his way through. This is a story that each reader needs to personalize and it is, indeed, one that will resonate beyond the borders of age, gender, race, religion or sexuality. Ozzie is a puzzle every reader needs to solve on their own as he reveals each piece of himself along the way, and it’s not overstating the fact that it took me almost the entirety of the book to decipher him and the definition of his ever-changing universe and what it represented. Once I did, though, it made the story all the more poignant and effective.
Ozzie is on the cusp of making that giant leap into the vast unknown, from high school to college, when a few short months is the difference between child and adulthood. In the midst of the anxiety of an obscure future, he’s also dealing with divorcing parents, a brother who’s joined the military, and a boyfriend who has not only disappeared from the face of the earth but also a boyfriend whom no one but Ozzie seems to remember ever having existed—not even Tommy’s own mother. It’s a lot for an adult to process, let alone a teenager, and Hutchinson’s writing, as always, is respectful of his audience and their intelligence. He doesn’t speak at his readers, never talks down to us or preaches his message, but he speaks to his readers, and anyone who’s read even a few Young Adult fiction novels knows and appreciates that difference.
As Ozzie wends his way through the trials and tribulations of a life on the brink of certain upheaval, with uncertainties waiting for him at every step, he’s also coping with his growing attraction to a boy who is deeply scarred. Calvin Frye had it all together just the year before—athletic and handsome and intelligent—but has changed in such drastic ways that his existence is more shadow than substance as he navigates around the periphery of a life that threatens to consume him. Feeling as though he’s being unfaithful to Tommy, Ozzie is pushed and pulled by his warring feelings for and about Calvin. Their relationship is at once sweet and stilted, and their friendship at times painful to witness—if Ozzie is a sympathetic character, Calvin broke my heart—but, it’s this relationship that begins to draw Ozzie out and forces him to see a world that exists outside of his own experiences. The halcyon days of Ozzie’s memories of his first love are woven into the stark reality of the present and provide a perfect contrast between that often fragile shift of child to adulthood. And, the end twist as Ozzie takes that one giant leap into the future was such an unexpected and unique turn in the story.
At the Edge of the Universe is not a light read, spending time in Ozzie’s head is not supposed to be easy—being a teenager rarely is, is it? Being a teenager who isn’t heterosexual or, like some in this cast of characters, cisgender or WASP, even less so. These characters aren’t here to satirize the high school experience or sanitize the issues they face. In fact, there’s a saying that goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle,” and this is a lesson that Ozzie learns through a lot of trial and error, not to mention a best friend and a brother who aren’t afraid to point out that the world doesn’t revolve around him.
This novel, like life itself, is a roller coaster. And that’s a metaphor in the story that I can reveal without spoiling this lovely bit of Young Adult fiction.
You can buy The Edge of the Universe here: