Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

by Norton, Preston

Book list *Starred Review* At six feet six and 250 pounds, self-hating 16-year-old Cliff is cruelly called Neanderthal by his bÍte noire, a golden boy named Aaron. When Aaron is injured in an accident, he goes into a coma from which he awakens to claim he has seen God, who has given him a list of five things he must do to improve life at Happy Valley High School. The kicker is that he must do them in concert with a highly dubious Cliff, who reluctantly goes along and slowly becomes Aaron's friend. Cliff's best friend, however, was his older brother, Shane, who killed himself a year earlier but not before insisting that Cliff watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, focusing on the Monolith, which Shane claimed was the Door of Life. Cliff, he said, must find out what is on the other side. Meanwhile, one of the more difficult tasks Aaron and Cliff must complete is to get repentance from the JTs, a group of self-righteous Christian students who make life miserable for Noah, the only openly gay student at HVHS. There is much more going on in the crowded but compelling narrative. Ambitious almost to a fault, the book nevertheless cogently explores large issues that plague and perplex teens. Though occasionally it suffers from hints of contrivance, overall the novel will appeal to all teens who are, themselves, seeking doors to the universe.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

School Library Journal Gr 9 Up-Cliff Hubbard aka Neanderthal, a 250-pound and super tall kid, is the target of bullies and crippling self-doubt until the day school football hero Aaron, newly surfaced from a coma, claims that in a near-death experience, God told him that their school needs drastic improvement, and that Cliff is Aaron's divinely appointed sidekick. Cliff's acceptance of the challenge leads them into direct conflict with everyone-the "Jesus" teens, an angry teacher, the local drug dealers, and a mysterious hacker poised to publish everyone's dirty laundry online. There's character development aplenty in this novel about what it takes to make the world a better place. While the debate about the reality of God is never resolved, there might just be a little divine intervention as the boys affect changes that make life better at sucky Happy Valley High School. Cliff is a wry, self-deprecating narrator whose spot-on observations about the "loser" side of high school life are frequently laugh-out-loud. Funny, well-plotted and sneakily thought-provoking, the only off-note here is the overabundance of expletives that, while evidently being offered to show how teens really talk, actually slow the story down. Still, fans of humorous realistic fiction will find a lot to enjoy in Norton's first foray into the genre. VERDICT A strong purchase for all libraries serving older teens.-Elizabeth Friend, Wester Middle School, TX © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly What if someone told you he was on a mission from God and you had to help him? What if that someone was the star quarterback and part-time bully at your high school, a guy who routinely calls you Neanderthal? That's exactly what happens to 16-year-old Cliff Hubbard, and Norton (Marrow) takes this unlikely premise, loads it with even more unlikely events, and makes it work in this funny and sweetly oddball book. Cliff, who is huge-250 pounds and 6'5"-has been angry since his brother committed suicide. But when the quarterback, named Aaron, returns from a near-death experience with a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High School happier-which includes getting rid of bullies like him, drug dealers, and the sanctimonious Christian students who think they're better than everyone else-Cliff signs on. Their utter cluelessness notwithstanding, the two make inroads on the list, improving not just their high school but themselves, and even finding love along the way. At the story's core is an unsentimental treatment of a bullied kid and his one-time bully discovering their commonalities. That Norton accomplishes this without moralizing and in inventively rhythmic and pop-culture-saturated language only adds to the fun. Ages 14-18. Agent: Jenny Bent, the Bent Agency. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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