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Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

Review

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

Preston Norton, author of MARROW and BLÜD AND MAGICK, is coming back with a new amazing novel, NEANDERTHAL OPENS THE DOOR TO THE UNIVERSE. At first glance, this novel seems to be another typical high school novel with angst-ridden characters and an interesting twist. However, before even the first chapter is finished, this novel promises to be a read that is worth both your time and your thoughts. With his wit, conversational writing style and sharp insight, Norton brings a fresh and much-needed view on common issues of today’s world.

Cliff Hubbard has three rules about high school:

1. It’s all BS.

2. People suck.

3. Fists speak louder than words.

"With his wit, conversational writing style and sharp insight, Norton brings a fresh and much-needed view on common issues of today’s world."

Ironically named “Happy Valley High School,” school feels like a living hell to Cliff, nicknamed “Neanderthal” because of his above-average size. Nobody teases Cliff more than Aaron Zimmerman: typical popular jock, and the top of Cliff’s hate list. Home is no better. While Cliff’s mother is the epitome of love, his alcoholic and sports-obsessed father despises and abuses Cliff for refusing to join the football team. When Cliff’s brother and only friend, Shane, dies by suicide, Cliff is left doubting all the good things he thought he knew. Finally, just when Cliff is ready to break, some bizarre salvation comes in the form of Aaron.

After a near-death experience, Aaron approaches Cliff with a request: help him to complete a divine list, given to him by none other than God himself. “The List” details five tasks that will make Happy Valley High School suck a little less. According to God, Aaron cannot complete the list without Cliff’s help. With the List, Cliff finally feels like he has a purpose in life. However, Cliff and Aaron cannot punch their way through their troubles this time. Cliff finds that he is not the only person that struggles with self-loathing. But how can he fix others when he does not know how to heal the gaping wounds Shane left?

One of the greatest strengths of this novel is the characters. Though the story is narrated in Cliff’s voice, each character is compelling and unique. The characters are not cliché; however, it is interesting to note that in the world of Happy Valley High School, every named female character besides one is categorized as extremely hot. Nevertheless, the characters are three-dimensional with their own fears and conflicting desires. Norton puts emphasis on the growth of the characters, reminding readers that they, too, must not become caught up with the nitty-gritty tasks of the world, but to remember to care for others. Looking back, it is difficult to completely summarize the story because of the multitude of side plots; yet the novel is fluid and smooth, with each character’s story joining to create a bigger picture.

With wit, heartbreaking honesty and a little bit of humor, Norton expertly discusses some of today’s issues, such as LGBTQ rights and the escalation of bullying and depression. Concise, beautifully and sharply written, Norton’s book gets right to the heart of what he wants to communicate to his readers. While dialogue is a little heavy with cussing, it does not detract from the seriousness of the topics Norton discusses, and adds a conversational tone which makes the characters seem more their age and familiar.

NEANDERTHAL OPENS THE DOOR TO THE UNIVERSE is filled with comedy, reflection and a little bit of intrigue --- is the list really from God, or something Aaron just made up? Does it matter where the list came from, or does its purpose matter more? I truly enjoyed this novel, and I really believe that this novel holds something for everyone. As Norton so eloquently puts it, “Life is a door…don’t you want to know what is on the other side?”

Reviewed by Lauren C., Teen Board Member on July 11, 2018

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
by Preston Norton