Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he's so enormous-6'6" and 250 pounds to be exact. He has nobody at school, and life in his trailer-park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother's suicide.
There's no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there's only one person who can help: Neanderthal.
To his own surprise, Cliff says he's in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS, Cliff feels like he's part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn't as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they've completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined.
Razor sharp, moving, and outrageously funny, Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is an unforgettable story of finding your place in an imperfect world.
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
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.
Read an Excerpt
There are three rules to high school irrevocably inscribed within the interstellar fabric of the universe.
Rule number one: it's all bullshit.
Now before you go thinking I'm some angsty little teenage shit, you should know that I'm not little. In fact, I'm a behemoth. Sixteen years old and somehow miraculously shattering the 250-pound barrier. Holy crap, you say. Get the hell out of town, you say. You think that's nuts? Let me rephrase it for you:
I'm a quarter of a thousand pounds.
Sometimes not sucking at math is a curse all its own.
It's not that I was completely fat; I was just big in general. Six foot six, to be exact. I was like this semi-evolved humanoid porpoise standing as a solemn warning of Darwinism gone wrong. I was like the immaculately conceived Force child of Jabba the Hutt and Chewbacca. Someone like me didn't need to look for the bullshit; it found me like a lard-seeking homing missile. Here were just a few shining examples:
"Hey, Cliff!" said Kyle Dunston on September 17 of last year, after I dropped my pencil in Mr. Gunther's Algebra 2 class. "Did you know that when you bend over, your butt crack is big enough to put the Grand Canyon out of business?"
"Easy, Neanderthal," said Lacey Hildebrandt on December 2, while I was making my way to the lunch line. "I'm pretty sure the cafeteria is all out of Twinkies and small children."
"Excuse me, Mr. Hubbard," said the aforementioned Mr. Gunther last month after school — March 23 — while he was looking over my make-up assignment on polynomials. "Could you try not to sound like a jetliner when you breathe? I can't hear myself think."
That was me, Clifford Hubbard — the Grand Canyon–assed, Twinkie-and-small-children-eating, jetliner-breather. Known more commonly by the Happy Valley High School population as Neanderthal.
This was all very pertinent to the second rule of high school: People suck.
And not just the students, as Mr. Gunther so abundantly demonstrated. Everyone. Such as:
1. Vice Principal Swagley, who always eyed me like I was an escaped convict masquerading as a minor. Surely I just hid my orange jumpsuit in the woods, close to where I buried all the bodies.
2. My guidance counselor, Mr. Gubler, who suggested the possibility of a career in sanitary engineering. Now, stereotypes aside (sanitary engineer = garbage man), sanitary engineering was actually a respectable engineering field, a career with a decent salary and a crucial emphasis on environmental safety not to be scoffed at. Unfortunately, my dad was an actual garbageman — before his "injury," anyway — and Mr. Gubler knew it. Which therefore made him the Grand Vizier of Douchebags.
3. The lunch lady, Miss Prudy, who glared at me like she was wondering what I was doing in her lunch line and not that other one at the local Satanist compound that served Twinkies and small children.
The list went on and on. And that brought me to Aaron Zimmerman.
The Aaron Zimmerman.
It wasn't that he was more or less douchey than anyone else. Really, his level of douchebaggery was rather average. He was simply the most popular douchebag at Happy Valley.
I mean, let's face it. He was cool.
How cool? Imagine that Ferris Bueller's Day Off was based on the real-life story of Aaron Zimmerman — this human being whose will the universe miraculously obeyed. Except instead of Matthew Broderick, Aaron would be played by this genetically engineered teenage clone hybrid of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Quarterback? Check. Four-point-oh GPA? Check. I hadn't seen the guy's ding-dong, but I imagine it was the size of a small nuclear warhead. I mean, why not? Everything else in the world was conclusively in his favor.
But before the List happened — more on "the List" later — I'd only had one real encounter with Aaron Zimmerman. Why would anyone as popular as him have had any reason to even acknowledge my existence?
Why, if my head intercepted his football, of course. April 12 (12:50 p.m., if you wanna get specific).
I was wearing my "lucky hoodie" — plain black with a four-leaf clover printed on the front — which was really more of an ironic name because bad things always happened to me while I was wearing it. My older brother, Shane, gave it to me for my birthday, although I was pretty sure he bought it from some kind of witch doctor, because it was definitely jinxed as fuck. There was a hole in the inner fabric of the front pocket that I liked to stick my right thumb in — ripping it just a little bit bigger each time. I couldn't help myself. A nervous tic, I suppose, when you're essentially wearing a kismet time bomb.
Meanwhile, Aaron was chucking said football across the crowded hall to his crony, Kyle Dunston — yes, of "Grand Canyon–assed" fame — the trajectory of which was well over everyone else's heads.
Unfortunately, my head was also well over everyone else's heads. The football connected with my face. Two hundred and fifty pounds or not, that football nearly sent me flying into last Tuesday. But instead of shattering the space-time continuum, I merely collided into the nearest locker, leaving a perfect, Neanderthal-shaped fossil imprint. For about five discombobulating seconds, I had no idea what happened. My mental processing was going something like this:
I was still prying myself out of the locker crater when Aaron Mosesed his way through the crowded hall like it was the Red Sea. He extended a helping hand. I took it.
"Whoa, are you okay?" he said, half-laughing, half-sounding like something resembling genuineness. "You really did a number on that locker."
I was still struggling to operate the English language, so I just kept blinking, failing to grasp that ever-elusive thing we call reality. Aaron was smiling as he eyed the crushed locker, and in my befuddled state, it could have passed as a real smile.
"Man, what do you eat for breakfast? Twinkies and small children?" I know I was big, and in the world we lived in, big usually equaled stupid. But I wasn't stupid. I had three realizations instantaneously:
1. That line was a Lacey Hildebrandt original.
2. Aaron Zimmerman had dated Lacey Hildebrandt. (This might have seemed like a grand coincidence, but really, it wasn't. Aaron was like James Bond — always got the girl; never the STD. Or maybe he had all the STDs! Who knew?)
3. During that brief relationship, the two of them had obviously had a great big laugh at Neanderthal, the Twinkie-and-small-children eater.
And that brings me to High School Rule Number Three: Fists speak louder than words.
My fist was a wrecking ball, and it was swinging to excavate Aaron's genetically engineered Brad Cruise clone-ass face.
That's when I learned that I had made a dire miscalculation. He wasn't just a Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise clone. There was also Bruce Lee in there somewhere because he limboed backward, narrowly missing my blow. And then he popped right back up like a jack-in-the-box, guided by his fist, which nailed me right in the jaw.
Now I was obviously a big guy, bordering on Brobdingnagian ...
... but damn!
I staggered backward, nearly into my Cliff-shaped crater, but caught myself with my hands. Aaron held his ground. His good friend, Kyle Kiss-Ass Dunston, however, was under the impression that Aaron was the president of the United States, and he was a member of the Secret Service, and this was suddenly a matter of national security. Kyle flew in, limbs flailing, with all the killer moves of an inebriated octopus.
I was smiling on the inside. I'd been waiting for this since November 17 of last year.
Grand Canyon, my ass.
My fist was a battering ram, straight and true, right into the word-spouting orifice of Kyle's face. You know that scene in The Matrix Revolutions when Neo punches Agent Smith in the head, and his whole face just kind of ripples?
Yeah. I was pretty sure that just happened.
Kyle went all Raggedy Ann across the hall — right into the circle of human vultures flapping in to feed on the action.
I lurched, veering my heavy momentum toward my remaining opponent. Aaron took off like a jet toward me. We crashed into each other — two raging, stormy tides of human fury. I may have had the body mass of a baby whale, but Aaron's reflexes were lightning. His left uppercut caught me on the other side of my jaw — THWACK!
At least my face would be proportionately fucked.
Fortunately for me, gravity was a cruel mistress. I was already on top of him, only slightly derailed by his blow. We rolled across the hall like some swollen, lopsided ball, roughly the size of a Prius. I had my hands around his throat, but Aaron decided to play prison rules and grabbed me by the nipples. Not that they were hard to find. I reckon I was a solid B cup, preparing to enter the solid realm of C if those Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts didn't stop being so damn delicious.
Aaron was gurgling, and I was screaming. We let go simultaneously.
At this point, I just wanted to curl into the fetal position and cry.
We both staggered upright, groaning and drunk on pain like a pair of zombies straight out of a Romero film.
"Son of ... a bitch," said Aaron between breaths. He sounded as exhausted as I felt. "You fight pretty good ... for a beached whale."
"Thanks," I said. "You too ... for a narcissistic ... pantywaist ... little ass-taxi."
Aaron actually laughed at this. "Wow ... the Neanderthal knows ... words and shit."
"Please ... the English language ... is my bitch ... you gaping cockmuppet."
And that's when my Spidey sense activated, and I sensed a terrible disturbance in the Force. Or maybe it was just the droves of students scattering like trouble was swiftly approaching.
This exclamation came from the only woman at HVHS wearing a power suit. Her hands were on her hips, never a good sign. Ever. Her hair fell in straightened curtains of black over her face, contortioned into the Scowl of Death.
Principal McCaffrey was pissed.
Note that McCaffrey didn't yell Aaron's name. Just mine. Do you know why that was?
Remember High School Rule Number One? Remember Rule Number Two?
Still, that didn't exclude Aaron from being escorted with me to McCaffrey's interrogation chamber. Kyle would have joined us, too, if his borderline-comatose ass wasn't being examined in the nurse's office.
"Take a seat, you two," said McCaffrey.
Aaron sat politely. I sort of collapsed into this flimsy plastic piece of shit masquerading as a sitting apparatus. It released a long, drawn-out squeal. I imagined it desperately reciting the Lord's Prayer before it died under my ass.
To the untrained eye, Principal McCaffrey's office glowed of cheerful professionalism. But I wasn't fooled by the wall of award plaques or the bookshelves lined with inspirational bullshit titles like children are the future or learning with love. And don't even get me started on the mug: world's greatest principal.
I had been waiting years for McCaffrey to take her hawk-eyes off me for one goddamn second so I could puke in that thing.
McCaffrey sat down behind her desk and pretzeled her arms and legs together into a fierce knot.
"What happened?" she said.
The words were already springboarding out of Aaron's mouth. "Well, you see, Principal McCaffrey, Kyle and I were just joking around, and I guess something we said must have offended Cliff 'cause he —"
McCaffrey was already shaking her head, eyes closed, one hand on her temple so as to prevent her Bullshit-O-Meter from sending her migraine into nuclear-meltdown mode. The other hand rose, slicing off Aaron's words.
"Okay, stop," said McCaffrey. When her eyes opened, they were firing on me. "Cliff, I want you to tell me what happened."
All the muscles in Aaron's face seemed to atrophy instantly. I wanted to take a picture and save it as the background screen on my iPhone. Except I didn't have an iPhone. Or any variation of smartphone. Or even a stupid phone for that matter. My family was the special sort of poor that couldn't afford a phone for their kid if the dude at T-Mobile gave us a brick with buttons for free because, according to my dad, talking to people costs money, too.
But back to Aaron's face ...
Ah, screw it. The fact of the matter was that I didn't want to talk to McCaffrey, I wouldn't, I refused to, and she couldn't make me, and that was that.
But boy, could I stare.
McCaffrey and I glared laser beams at each other for a solid minute. Her stare demanded subservience. My gaze was like, Oh yeah, woman? I can fall asleep with my eyes open. For all you know, I'm already unconscious.
Aaron's eyeballs ping-ponged between the two of us, unsure what to make of the spectacle.
"Aaron, could you excuse us for a moment?" said McCaffrey.
"Uh ..." said Aaron. "Sure. Should I just wait outside in the ...?"
McCaffrey's brow scrunched impatiently.
"Yeah, I'll just wait outside," said Aaron. He stood up all-too-eagerly and started for the door.
But not before flipping me off.
His arm and erect middle finger were tucked close to his chest — completely out of McCaffrey's view, the sneaky bastard. He walked slowly and held it for a long, tense moment until he opened the door and exited.
Before he closed the door, he winked.
Something ignited inside of me. It flashed and burned and billowed — filling me up — and suddenly, I had a purpose.
The next time I saw Aaron Zimmerman, I was going to beat the figurative and literal shit out of him. I was going to kill him with my bare hands.
But that was later. Right now there was only McCaffrey, me, and the metaphorical elephant.
"You know," said McCaffrey, shattering the silence like a sheet of glass, "I'm really sick and tired of this shit. You not talking to me? What's that supposed to accomplish? Just who the hell do you think you're helping by giving me the silent treatment? Because it's not you, that's for damn sure."
I actually kind of liked it when McCaffrey swore at me. At least I knew she was being real. None of that "Children Are the Future/Learning with Love" nonsense. No, deep down beneath the plaques and world's greatest principal mugs, Joan McCaffrey was a hard-ass chick who liked coffee and weekends and speaking her mind, and she hated kids like me. I could respect that. If I was her, I'd hate me, too.
Hell, I was me, and I still hated myself.
"Is this about Shane?" said McCaffrey.
My desire to be a part of this conversation plummeted from zero to negative eleventeen gazillion.
"I know it's been hard on you, Cliff," said McCaffrey. "But it's been almost a year. I think your brother would want you to move on. Do you think this —?" She pointed at me. "Whatever the hell this is — do you think that's the person he wanted you to be?" Shane probably spent more school hours in McCaffrey's office than outside of it. She knew Shane Hubbard — the pot-smoking, hell-raising juvenile delinquent.
But she didn't know shit about the only real friend I ever had.
I leaned forward in my chair, and the words clawed out of my teeth. "Go. To. Hell."
I was suspended from school for a week. This might have been a big deal if I gave a shit about anything. But I didn't. Not one single shit. If it was possible for me to give negative shits, I'd distribute those like a six-year-old flower girl at a wedding.
Negative shits! Negative shits for everyone!
No, there were only two things I gave a shit about right now: (1) kicking Aaron's ass, and (2) Shane.
I would always give a shit about Shane.
I left school, but I didn't go home. I had a very important detour to make.
The Shannondale Cemetery wasn't the prettiest thing on God's green earth. I mean, it wasn't even really green, and it certainly didn't look like God had any part in its making. It was this brown-patchy, weed-ridden field of trailer-trash blah, because apparently people like my family had to bury their dead somewhere, too. Tombstones stuck out of the rain-drenched earth every which way like a mouthful of broken, crooked teeth.
Excerpted from "Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe"
Copyright © 2018 Preston Norton.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow. This book was so powerful, I really don’t know where to start. Norton has a knack for getting inside his character’s head, portraying teen life rather accurately. This has its ups and downs – I just want to mention that the book is definitely Young Adult. Nortan’s poignant story shows teenagers in all their glory and horrors in such a marvelous way and completely gritty way. We, the readers, need to hear this story – it’s a story of dejection and a story of hope. About fighting for a cause even as you’re called insane. About doing what is right, not what is standard. One of the things I liked about the premise was that even though the entire story revolves around the near-death experience and seeing God – the book isn’t so much about whether God exists or not (even though that conversation does come up a few times) but more about doing the right things. Cliff is a kid who isn’t necessarily the best person in the school, but we the readers still care for him because we see his story and can empathize with his emotional reactions. There are a lot of mature topics being broached, with drug addicts, abusive families, alcoholism, etc. There is no graphic violence and sex, although there is a fight scene or two – and at one point one of the main characters is confessing that he cheated on his girlfriend for another girl. I am definitely looking forward to reading more works by Norton. I honestly may have found one of my favorite young adult novels of this year. Please note I received a free review copy of this book.
My thoughts are somewhat mixed regarding this book. I really had no trouble reading it and did enjoy the story but it was missing that extra spark that it would have needed to make it great. It was a book that was pretty easy to set aside because I never felt completely invested in the story. There were a lot of issues address in this story and in some ways it felt like nothing went beyond the surface level. I did find the book entertaining and am glad that I decided to pick it up. Cliff is huge which is one of the reasons that his classmates refer to him as Neanderthal. He leads a rather solitary life and is dealing with the loss of his brother not too long ago. Cliff and Aaron are not friends at the start of this book. Aaron is the popular quarterback so he has very little in common with Cliff . When Aaron has a near death experience, he partners with Cliff to fulfill a to-do list that he received from God. The list is very specific and everything on it is tied to their high school. If they can accomplish all of the tasks, the school will undoubtedly benefit from their efforts. This book touches on so many issues. I actually think that it would have improved the story if fewer issues were dealt with but in greater detail. Cliff and Aaron are not only dealing with their list but they are also developing relationships including their own friendship. Some of the items on the list sound almost impossible and other will require some investigation before they can even begin. I liked the characters but I never felt like I completely connected with them. The book is told from Cliff's point of view and I didn't feel like I got to know any of the other key players beyond the surface level. Even during some parts of the book that were more emotional, I found that I was rather unmoved. I think I would have liked this book a lot more if I had been able to develop an emotional connection with any of the characters. I did enjoy the story and thought that it had a lot of unique aspects. I do think that a lot of readers will enjoy this one a bit more than I did. I wouldn't hesitate to read more from Preston Norton in the future. I received a digital review copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley.
I didn't expect to like Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe (Neanderthal) as much as I did. The wit, the sarcasm, the science fiction references, the pain and guilt of losing someone to suicide, the finding of new friends—all of these aspects made Neanderthal a humorous and compelling read. The entire story was narrated by the main character, Clifford, a 6' 6" and 250-pound high schooler with no friends and three cynical rules to keep it that way. Or so was the impression he gave as he began. As I learned more about him—his brother who committed suicide, his abusive dad, the bullying he faces at school—Cliff's cynicism grew more and more into what it really was: a mask for how heartbroken and lonely he felt. For the majority of the story, he referred to himself as the sidekick in the escapade of the List, but he was ultimately the hero of the story. Not only because he was the narrator, but also because he was willing to endure a lot to see the story to the end. I applauded him. Cliff was a sci-fi fanatic, so there were a lot of references to sci-fi books and movies throughout the story. Many of them were integrated into his hallmark humor while some of them were made by quoting or alluding to popular or classic references. I was impressed by the intertextuality, the depth it added to the story by foreshadowing events, adding to the mood, or iterating something wise. Young individuals who are avid consumers of sci-fi will highly appreciate it as it places the complex themes of this coming-of-age novel in a language that is both relatable and appealing. I am not a sci-fi fanatic, but this aspect of Neanderthal impressed and inspired me nonetheless. I had a couple of issues with Neanderthal, however, particularly about the romance and the ending. For the romance, it was rather forced and unnecessary. How Cliff and his love interest got together seemed too sudden as it happened early into the novel, about a hundred pages in, and Cliff wasn't even sure about his feelings, let alone the legitimacy of the List. If the two of them had decided to be friends first to get to know each other more before becoming boyfriend and girlfriend, the development of their relationship would have been more convincing while changing little to the plot. Even after finishing the novel, I was unconvinced. The ending of the story was predictable. Usually I am bad at guessing what will happen next, but while reading Neanderthal and watching the last mystery of the story unfold, I predicted easily what was to happen. When the characters finally figured it out, I wanted to reach in and go, "Well, duh!" In hindsight, my reaction was probably just the result of having familiarity with similar plotlines, but I still felt no excitement during such an intense point in the story. I was hoping for more. Despite these issues, I would highly recommend Neanderthal to young readers, especially high schoolers. Admittedly, there is a lot of profanity, which didn't bother me but more sensitive readers might take issue. It discusses prevalent topics, such as religion, sci-fi, and sexuality and it should be read by individuals who are still figuring out who they are and where they belong. Neanderthal brings to light that battle in a manner that is honest and impactful; to not read it is to miss out on the amount of self-reflection and self-acceptance it is bound to solicit and encourage.
Wow, this book totally blew me away! I picked it up while on vacation, and read straight through the first 92 pages in no time! I was laughing out loud and just enjoying it so much! Having a six year old niece on vacation meant that Auntie had to spend lots of time with her. But whenever I got the chance to pick this up, I was lost and couldn't put it down. The characters were so great. When it was pitched to me as a post-millenial Breakfast Club, I was a bit skeptical, but in the end, it really kind of worked out that way! Cliff was really a bit oblivious, but partly because his brother had recently killed himself. And then there was the popular boy, Aaron, the one who got "the list" from God that had to be completed, and that he needed Cliff to help with. Which really, the two of them just gotten in a big fist-fight right before this all happened. Then you had the local drug dealers that hung out in front of the school, the girl who seemed to do nothing but proposition Cliff all the time. She gets into the whole mix-up with the list, and you fall in love with her. The bully, gets what he probably deserves, but also falls in at one point. Then there is the brother of the leader of the Jesus Teens. He is gay, and keeps trying to start a Gay-Straight Alliance group at the school, but his sister has gotten the school to ban all after school groups that are not "class-related". And that is something that becomes a big focus point for Aaron and Cliff with the list. Then the meanest teacher, think of the one in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and that's who you've got here. All of the characters were just perfect. There were some points that had me crying, but then those tears were often replace with huge laughs from the banter between the characters. When Aaron and Cliff try to help out with the teacher problem, they end up going to mow his lawn. I was just about rolling on the floor with that bit! The teacher threatened to call the cops on them for mowing his lawn, something his home owner's association had actually been posting letters on his door about. I'm not explaining it that great, you've got to pick this book up and read it. I don't know, maybe you have to read it and be in the whole scene to get it. But the "brown" belt comment. And then the part about the iPhone, which I'm an iPhone user, but it still cracked me up! I cannot WAIT to put this book in my school library next year. I can't wait to share it with a teacher I work with. It has all different kinds of people. Rich, poor, Christian, nerdy, techy, popular, gay, depressed, socially awkward, popular, you name it, that character is in here, and they are portrayed in such a great way. There's a twist with the brother that I had a bit of an idea of what it might be, but liked the direction the author took it in. Also, it's not just the main characters, but there are so many quirky side characters you have to just laugh at. Like Cliff's mother's boss at the video store. And the principal is great, and just so many great characters in this story. If you don't pick this one up, you'll regret it, hope you get a chance to do that soon!
This book was pitched to me and I loved the synopsis and cover, but somehow it got buried. When I finally found it and got around to reading it, I was angry that I had waited so long. I love love loved Cliff. He’s so weary and tired of dealing with all of the bs life has dealt him. And yet, he hasn’t given up. He’s hopeful. His inner monologue is absolutely hysterical and had me actually laughing out loud. There are a core group of other characters who are fantastic, but this story is all about Cliff. Plot wise, I didn’t know what to expect. I was drawn in from the beginning and was captivated in reading Cliff, Aaron, and their band of merry men and women figured out how to create change. Overall, this book was heartbreaking and hopeful and relatable af. I could have easily read 100 more pages. **Huge thanks to Hyperion for providing the arc free of charge**
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.