About the Book

Title: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Compelling
BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child
Talky Talk: Oh Boy
Bonus Factors: Pop-Culture Love, Abandoned Building
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Friends With Benefits

Content Warning: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe features scenes of abuse and bullying, and somewhat graphic talk of a past suicide, that might be triggering to some readers.

Cover Story: Compelling

The title alone makes this a book that practically leaps off the shelf. But look past the large white text and you’ll see someone sitting at the edge of a structure. Is he hopeful? Pensive? Depressed? You’ll just have to read what’s inside to find out.

The Deal:

Clifford “Neanderthal” Hubbard is an outcast, and not just because of his 6’6” 205 lb frame. His only friend, his older brother Shane, committed suicide the year prior, and everyone at school takes more time to make fun of him than get to know him.

But then, Aaron Zimmerman, star football player and most popular guy in school, comes to Cliff with a crazy story: during a near-death experience, Aaron saw God. And God gave him a list of things to do that will make their high school a better place—but he can only do it with Cliff’s help.

Thing is, Cliff hates Aaron. Hates him. And Cliff isn’t so sure about the rest of his classmates, either, so helping Aaron make all of their lives better is not something Cliff is all that interested in.

BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child

BFF charm featuring the members of Destiny's Child

Cliff is a smart, funny guy with a huge heart. He’s had a lot of crap happen to him in a short period of time, crap that would have broken a lot of people. But he’s stronger than even he knows. He’s not only going to survive, he’s going to thrive.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Although Cliff does get a girlfriend in Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe, and their relationship is cute, it’s not all that swoony, and is pretty secondary to the main plot. I do love how their roles are reversed, however, with his girlfriend being more of the “aggressor” and Cliff kind of going along for the ride.

Talky Talk: Oh Boy

Cliff is such a teenage boy, and Norton totally nails the awkwardness, confusion, and self-consciousness that comes with being a teenager. Cliff’s a little crass, sarcastic, and quick-tempered, but also has a soft side that makes him feel totally realistic and very human.

Additionally, Norton infuses a lot of humor into story about grief and finding one’s place in the world. It tempers the sadness of the story—I definitely teared up a couple of times—but it doesn’t make the emotion any less poignant.

Bonus Factor: Pop-Culture Love

Cliff is a big fan of pop-culture and movies, and there are references to various properties throughout Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe. Although I disagree on some of Cliff’s opinions, the fact that he loves nerdy things so deeply makes me like him all the more.

Bonus Factor: Abandoned Building

There’s a building in Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe that Cliff visits often. It’s half-built, but abandoned, so there’s a sad beauty about it. (A depiction of it is on the cover.) Cliff reveres it so much that it becomes a character in it’s own right. As someone who finds in-construction and abandoned buildings beautiful and intriguing, it was fun reading about someone with a similar (weird) interest.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

Cliff’s dad is the worst kind of person: someone who enjoys hurting the people who love him, both physically and mentally. He used to beat Cliff’s brother Shane, he beats up on Cliff, and he manipulates and frightens Cliff’s mom into inaction and silence.

Relationship Status: Friends With Benefits

You weren’t what I expected, Book, but I’m so glad I took a chance on you. We laughed, we cried, we made memories that will last a long, long time.

Literary Matchmaking

The Serpent King

Cliff reminded me of another large, nerdy boy in another humorous yet heartbreaking book about figuring out one’s place in the world: Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King.

The Boomerang Effect

For another funny book featuring a very realistic teenage boy, check out The Boomerang Effect by Gordon Jack.

Teach Me to Forget

And if you’re up to taking a hard look at how suicide affects the people who are left behind, you might want to read Erica M. Chapman’s Teach Me to Forget.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe will be available June 5.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.