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At the Edge of the Universe
     

At the Edge of the Universe

by Shaun David Hutchinson
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/13/2017
The universe appears to be literally shrinking around Ozzie Pinkerton: erasing people, obliterating the stars, and reducing the world to little more than his town of Cloud Lake, Fla. Ozzie alone remembers the world as it was, and he’s also grappling with graduation, the vanished boyfriend whose very existence is now in question, his parents’ divorce, his brother’s enlistment in the military, and the secrets he’s keeping for his new friend Calvin. As in We Are the Ants, Hutchinson uses a science fiction overlay to explore important topics, including self-mutilation, gender identity, and child abuse. Ozzie’s friends remind him that the world doesn’t revolve around him, but Hutchinson playfully disagrees, turning the literal shrinking of the universe into a smart metaphor for Ozzie’s introversion and alienation. Ozzie’s wit and concern for his friends make him a captivating narrator frozen by the changes and choices he faces. The conceit also works as a powerful parable for victimization, as everything Ozzie knows is stolen and the people he should be able to trust constantly undermine him—or disappear altogether. Ages 14–up. Agent: Amy Boggs, Donald Maass Literary. (Feb.)
STARRED REVIEW Booklist
“Hutchinson’s excellent novel of ideas invites readers to wonder about their place in a world that often seems uncaring and meaningless. The novel is never didactic; on the contrary, it is unfailingly dramatic and crackling with characters who become real upon the page. Will Henry press the button? We all await his decision.”
November 15, 2016 - Booklist
The universe isn’t expanding anymore—it’s actually shrinking, and Florida high-school senior Ozzie is the only one who remembers it differently. He’s also the only one who remembers Tommy, his best friend since childhood and boyfriend since the eighth grade. Tommy has vanished, both from Ozzie’s life and from the memories of everyone around him. As graduation approaches and Ozzie’s world becomes literally smaller, he struggles to find Tommy with increasing desperation, even as he grows closer to Calvin, the quiet, elusive boy in his physics class. Occasionally nihilistic but never completely hopeless, the narrative supports multiple topics with grace: gender and sexual identities, mental illness, and the inevitable grief that comes with learning to move from one phase of life to another. A few familiar faces from Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants (2016) make cameo appearances, and fans will recognize similar motifs Hutchinson writes variations on a theme, to be sure, but it’s a rich theme. Wrenching and thoughtprovoking, Hutchinson has penned another winner. — Maggie Reagan
School Library Journal
02/01/2017
Gr 9 Up—Oswald "Ozzie" Pinkerton is facing a gauntlet of problems: his parents are divorcing; his older brother is skipping college to join the military, and Ozzie is afraid he'll be killed; and Ozzie's boyfriend since eighth grade, Tommy, has vanished. To make matters worse, everyone in the town of Cloud Lake seems to have erased Tommy from their memories, even Ozzie and Tommy's best friends, gender-fluid punk rocker Lua and quiet valedictorian Dustin. Also, the universe is shrinking, and Ozzie appears to be the only person who realizes it. Ozzie has no idea how to function without Tommy, but when he's paired with solitary Calvin for a physics project and Calvin mentions Tommy's name, Ozzie begins to hope that Tommy is still out there. Hutchinson follows up We Are the Ants with a deep and introspective novel full of angst and suffering. Readers will feel Ozzie's nearly radiant pain, but Universe isn't singularly focused. All of the characters are neatly fleshed out and have their own personal anguish: Lua deals with being gender-fluid in a small town; Dustin, whose father loses the family fortune, has to confront a future where his dreams cannot be attained; and Ozzie's trials serve as a lens through which readers can examine the scope of human experience in this (shrinking) universe. VERDICT A closing revelation may frustrate some, but this smartly written, profound look at the wells of human despair will stay with readers. Recommended for all YA collections where Hutchinson's work circulates heavily.—Tyler Hixson, School Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-10-26
If your boyfriend is erased from history, is it because the universe is shrinking, or have you totally lost your mind?During senior year in high school, college applications and prom dates are the stresses du jour. But Oswald "Ozzie" Pinkerton's also include trying to convince anyone (family, friends, an alphabetical string of therapists) that his boyfriend, Tommy, ever existed. They theorize that Ozzie is obsessive and slightly touched; he theorizes that the universe is shrinking and that Tommy was a casualty of restricting astral girth. As Ozzie tracks the solar system's diminishing waist size, his still-existing world unravels and conversely weaves new chapters. One of these chapters is Calvin, a once-golden, now-reclusive student. When the two are paired for a physics project, Ozzie weighs his loyalty to absent Tommy against his growing attraction to present Calvin. A varied cast of characters populates the pages: there's a genderqueer girl who prefers masculine pronouns, a black boyfriend, an Asian/Jewish (by way of adoption) best friend, and a bevy of melting-pot surnames. Ozzie is a white male, and he is respectfully called out on underestimating the privilege he enjoys for being just that. Though Ozzie primarily narrates in the past tense (with sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll drifting through the background), intermittent flashbacks in the present tense unveil the tender, intimate history of Ozzie's relationship with Tommy. An earthy, existential coming-of-age gem. (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781481449663
Publisher:
Simon Pulse
Publication date:
02/07/2017
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
34,390
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.70(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

At the Edge of the Universe

15,000,000,000 LY


I SAT BESIDE THE WINDOW pretending to read Plato’s Republic as the rest of the passengers boarding Flight 1184 zombie-walked to their seats. The woman next to me refused to lower her armrest, and the chemical sweetness of her perfume coated my tongue and the back of my throat. I considered both acts of war.

In the aisle seat a middle-aged frat bro babbled on his phone, shamelessly describing every horrifying detail of his previous night’s date, including how drunk he’d gotten the girl he’d taken home. And he ended each sentence with “like, awesome, right?”

It sounded less, like, awesome, and more like date rape.

“Flying alone?” asked the perfume terrorist. She had a Chihuahua face—all bulging eyes and tiny teeth—and wore her hair in a helmet of brassy curls.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m searching for someone.”

“And they’re in Seattle?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Which is why I’m searching for him rather than meeting him.” I wasn’t exactly trying to be rude, but I hated flying. I understood the mechanics, knew my risk of dying in a car was far greater than in a plane, but cramming a couple hundred sweaty, obnoxious people into a metal tube that cruised through the air at five hundred and fifty miles per hour short-circuited my rational brain and loosed the primal, terrified aspect that didn’t grasp science and assumed flying the unholy product of black magic. Reading and not having to make small talk kept me calmish. Not that my oblivious seatmate had noticed.

The woman tapped my book with a well-manicured fingernail. “It’s nice to see a young man reading instead of staring at a phone.”

“Let me tell you about cell phones,” I said. “They’re two-way communication devices designed to slurp up your private personal information through their cameras and microphones and myriad sensors, then blast that data into the air for any determined creep to snatch and paw through. You believe no one is watching because it helps you sleep at night, but someone is always watching. And listening and collecting your GPS coordinates, from which they can extrapolate that you swing by Starbucks every morning on your drive to work, except on Fridays when you take the long way so you can grab a tasty breakfast sandwich. Phones are doors into our lives, and the government keeps copies of all the keys.”

The woman smiled, her coral lips taut, and lowered the armrest.

Finally.

But I hadn’t really spoken to anyone in so long that instead of returning to my book, I kept talking.

“My boyfriend disappeared,” I said. I peered over the seats at a gangly flight attendant near the cockpit who was facing the exit, gesturing at someone with his hands.

“Thomas Ross. He’s who I’m hoping to find in Seattle.” The flight attendant glanced over his shoulder, his hawkish nose a compass needle pointing directly at me.

“Interesting,” the woman said, though her tone said otherwise.

“Tommy vanished two months ago. I’m the only person looking for him. Not the police or our friends. Not even his parents. He disappeared and they’ve stitched closed the hole in their lives; continued attending their everyone-wins-a-trophy soccer games and forced family suppers, because to them, he never existed.”

The flight attendant slid into the galley to allow a red-faced sheriff’s deputy wearing a hunter-green uniform onto the plane. A burnished gold star hung over his left breast pocket, and he carried a gun clipped to a belt strapped around his waist.

The sheriff’s officer floated down the aisle, his shiny shaved head swiveling from side to side, scanning each traveler like he possessed a Heads-Up-Display feeding him their names and personal details.

“Tommy’d earned a 3.98 GPA,” I said. “He worked as the assistant editor for the Cloud Lake High Tribune, kicked ass on the debate team. And I’m certain he loved me. It’s the only thing I’m certain of. He wouldn’t have just left.”

The woman, and everyone else on the plane, watched the cop shamble in my direction.

“Teenagers often make rash decisions,” the woman said. “Your friend will turn up.”

Turn up. Like a missing sock or the Batman action figure my older brother had hidden from me when we were younger. Like Tommy wasn’t missing but had simply been misplaced.

“Also,” I said, “the universe is shrinking.”

The sheriff’s officer stopped at my row and faced me. His name tag read BANEGAS. “Oswald Pinkerton? I need you to come with me.”

“No Oswald Pinkerton here,” I said. “Maybe he’s on a different flight.”

The cop puffed out his chest, trying to conjure the illusion that he was tough, but his arms looked like the only thing they were used to lifting was a television remote. “Don’t be difficult, kid.”

“Perhaps you should do as he asks,” the woman said. She tucked her legs under the seat so I could, what, crawl over her?

“Let’s go, Oswald.” Officer Banegas moved aside to allow my seatmates to shuffle into the aisle and clear me a path.

So close. One flight, with a layover in Atlanta, from finding Tommy. Or from crossing off another place he wasn’t and further crushing my remaining hope of ever seeing my boyfriend again. If Palm Beach County’s Least Competent had stopped for coffee or taken a detour to the toilet to feed the sewer gators, the flight attendant would’ve shut the doors, the pilot would’ve taxied to the runway, and I’d have escaped. But maybe this was better. If I’d gone and hadn’t found Tommy, I might have been forced to entertain the possibility that he’d vanished for good. This way, I could continue believing I’d find him.

I sighed, grabbed my backpack, tossed the Republic inside, and followed the deputy off the plane.

Banegas clapped his hand on my shoulder, leaving me no choice but to accept my temporary defeat. The hatch clunked shut, and I resisted the urge to turn around. My feet weighed a hundred pounds each. Clearly, God had cranked up the gravity.

The terminal—with its gaudy, outdated palm-tree-and-pastel Florida decor—greeted us as we exited the jet bridge. Deputy Banegas guided me to a seat in front of the windows with a view of the runway.

“Wait here,” Banegas said. He moved off to the side and mumbled into his shoulder radio.

My plane backed away from the terminal to begin its journey.

My plane.

I’d planned my getaway perfectly. I’d convinced my parents that Lua, Dustin, and I were road-tripping to Universal Studios for the weekend, and I’d begged Lua to cover for me even though I wouldn’t tell her where I was going. She’d reluctantly agreed after extracting a promise that I’d explain everything when I returned.

I’d paid for the plane ticket using a prepaid credit card and found a place to crash using HouseStay to avoid having to deal with a front-desk clerk who might question my age. I’d even downloaded Seattle public transportation apps and devised an efficient search pattern that would have allowed me to best utilize my time.

But despite my planning, my plane was flying away without me, and my parents were definitely going to ground me, probably forever.

My life’s pathetic theme song repeated in my head. You failed. You failed. You’re a loser and you failed. Dada da doo dee.

Lua could’ve written better lyrics, but the beat didn’t suck.

Officer Banegas loomed over me. “Come on,” he said. “We’ll wait for your parents in the security office.”

“Can I watch my plane take off at least?” I asked. “Please?”

“Whatever, Oswald.”

“Ozzie,” I said. “Only people who hate me call me Oswald.”

“Fine,” Banegas said, annoyed or bored or wishing he’d called in sick. Then he smirked and added, “Oswald.”

I walked to the window. My breath fogged the glass as the last feeble rays of the day lit the sky to the west with the colors of orange-and-pink swirled sorbet. I tracked my plane as it turned at the end of the runway. The wing flaps extended. I’d always wondered at their purpose, but never enough to bother looking it up. I considered asking Deputy Banegas, but he struck me as the type who’d cheated his way through college and had only joined the police force because he thought carrying a gun would be cool, then had been disappointed to discover the job consisted mostly of filling out paperwork and offered depressingly few opportunities to actually shoot people.

“How’d my parents find me?”

“Hell if I know,” Officer Banegas said.

“Oh.”

My plane’s twin engines roared. I couldn’t hear them inside the terminal, but I imagined their growl as the blades spun madly, faster and faster, struggling to reach critical speed before the road ended. I imagined myself still buckled into my seat, gripping the armrests, trying to ignore my seatmate’s fragrance offensive and banal chatter.

The front wheels lifted as the nose pitched up. The air pressure over the top of the wings decreased, allowing my plane to defy gravity. It soared into the sky while I remained rooted to the earth.

Deputy Banegas tapped my shoulder. “Come on, kid.”

“Sure.” I retrieved my backpack and followed Banegas. We’d reached the lone shop in the center of the terminal when the shouting began. People ran to the windows. I ran to the windows.

Banegas yelled after me, cussing and huffing. I ignored him.

I pressed my face to the glass, crowded on both sides by travelers and airport personnel, and watched my plane tumble from the sky and crash into Southern Boulevard on the far side of the fence separating the runway from the road.

I didn’t think about the individuals who died—the perfume bomber, the frat-bro date rapist, the passengers who’d watched Officer Banegas perp-walk me off the plane—only that they burned beautifully.

Then the floor shook; the windows rattled.

Someone screamed, breaking the held-breath paralysis that felt like it had stretched across infinite days though had lasted but the length of a frantic heartbeat.

Officer Banegas’s radio squawked. He stood to my right, his arms limp, his eyes wide, watching the nightmare through the glass like it was a TV screen rather than a window.

“Holy shit,” he said.

Panic spread like a plague. Rumple-suited businessmen with phones permanently attached to their ears, weary parents and hyper children, heartsick halves of couples desperate to reunite with their missed loved ones, usually ornery ticket agents, and every spectrum of humanity between. None were immune. They screamed and huddled under rows of seats and ran and cried, their actions ineffectual. Their tears inadequate to douse my plane’s beautiful fire.

I didn’t cry.

Not me.

I laughed.

And laughed and laughed and laughed.

It took two paramedics and a shot of something “for my nerves” to dam my laughter, but far more effort to finally quench the flames.

Meet the Author

Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List; the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA; and We Are the Ants, which received five starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon.com, Kobo.com, Publishers Weekly, and iBooks. He lives in South Florida with his adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV. Visit him at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com.

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