Preston Norton's newest book, Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe, releases Tuesday June 5/18.
Now, you might be saying to yourself - with a title like that, what could this book possibly be about? No, it's not a time travelling cave man. Instead, we meet high school student Cliff Hubbard, AKA Neanderthal, based on his 6'6", 250 lb. frame. Neanderthal is not one of the popular kids at Happy Valley High School. And he's not happy - his brother committed suicide, his father is an alcoholic and his mother seems to be simply existing and turning a blind eye. And school is no better. Aaron is the cool kid at school. But, when he suffers a head injury at football, he wakes up saying he saw God and God gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High School a better place. God also said that Neanderthal is the one to help him with the list. This unlikely pair do team up to tackle the list - and much more.
I have to say up front that I really enjoyed Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe. I liked the premise and I was really drawn to the characters, especially Cliff. Norton gives us a large and varying cast of supporting players that pretty much illustrate a high school and the social strata. You'll have no problem deciding who you're behind - and who you can't stand. (Esther is especially despicable)
Norton captures the thoughts, angst, hopes, dreams and disappointments of teens through all of his characters, but Cliff's are especially poignant. I loved the voice Norton has given him. Those currently in school will identify and those of us long past school will remember those days through Cliff's trials and triumphs.
"Some of us are barely swimming, some of us are drowning, and there are some of us still who are being tossed in waves and dashed upon the rocks. And often we feel that we won’t survive. Maybe that ocean is school, and we’re struggling to get descent grades, or to fit in, or maybe we’re just trying to survive the hurtful words and actions of people who don’t understand their own cruelty."
The journey to fulfill the list takes Cliff and company on a journey that touches on and explores friendship, families, relationships, love, hate, grief, drugs, drinking, sex, mental health, bullying, homophobia and more. Some of it may not be for the younger end of the teen set.
Norton tells his story with lots of humour - some of it is a bit over the top, as are some situations, but it suits Norton's writing style. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe moves along very quickly and is an infectious read. (It will also break your heart in places.) Cliff's revelations and resolutions are relatable for anyone, regardless of age.
An excellent read - one that found me - and I'm glad it did. See for yourself - here's an excerpt.
"Preston Norton is: bisexual, slightly genderqueer, married. His partner, Erin, is trying to put him on a diet, and he's revolting (both contexts apply). He has taught seventh grade and ninth grade English, mentored drug addicts, and mowed lawns (in no particular order). He is obsessed with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Quentin Tarantino." You can connect with Preston on his website and follow him on Twitter.