Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

416p. Disney-Hyperion. Jun. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484790625.
Gr 9 Up—Cliff Hubbard aka Neanderthal, a 250-pound and super tall kid, is the target of bullies and crippling self-doubt until the day school football hero Aaron, newly surfaced from a coma, claims that in a near-death experience, God told him that their school needs drastic improvement, and that Cliff is Aaron's divinely appointed sidekick. Cliff's acceptance of the challenge leads them into direct conflict with everyone—the "Jesus" teens, an angry teacher, the local drug dealers, and a mysterious hacker poised to publish everyone's dirty laundry online. There's character development aplenty in this novel about what it takes to make the world a better place. While the debate about the reality of God is never resolved, there might just be a little divine intervention as the boys affect changes that make life better at sucky Happy Valley High School. Cliff is a wry, self-deprecating narrator whose spot-on observations about the "loser" side of high school life are frequently laugh-out-loud. Funny, well-plotted and sneakily thought-provoking, the only off-note here is the overabundance of expletives that, while evidently being offered to show how teens really talk, actually slow the story down. Still, fans of humorous realistic fiction will find a lot to enjoy in Norton's first foray into the genre.
VERDICT A strong purchase for all libraries serving older teens.

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