Friday, August 24, 2018

Needle is Disappointed by At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun Hutchinson

At the Edge of the Universe
by Shaun Hutchinson

“Don't get so focused on where you're going that you forget the people you're traveling with. There's no point reaching a destination if you arrive alone.”

WARNING: This book is often pretty dark and discusses sensitive topics including rape, self-harm, drug use, child abuse, homophobia, racism, and violence.

After having read and fallen in love with one of Hutchinson’s other books, At the Edge of the Universe was one of the titles that I was most eagerly looking forward to reading. Unfortunately, while I certainly enjoyed the book, it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly perhaps unfairly high) expectations.
Ozzie and Tommy had been elementary school friends then boyfriends since middle school and relied on each other for everything. Then one day, it’s as if Tommy had never existed. None of Ozzie’s classmates remember Tommy having ever gone to their school and even Tommy’s own mother’s history has been altered so that Tommy was never born. As the days go by, Ozzie realizes that Tommy’s erasure was just the first step in an ongoing shrinkage of the universe and that only he remembers the way things used to be.
The book is about Ozzie’s search for Tommy, and even more so about his relationships with the others around him. It’s dark and gritty, and readers should definitely not expect an easy, adventure-filled sci-fi experience. While the premise seems really cool, here’s where I start to have a few complaints. As a non-white member of the LGBT community, I wholeheartedly agree that it is important to have diverse representation in books. However, it sometimes rubs me the wrong way if it seems the author is trying too hard. Ozzie himself is a white, gay male, Tommy is half black, Ozzie’s best friend Lua is genderfluid and alternates between she/her and he/him pronouns, a character is presumably bisexual, and late in the book a Chinese-American character is revealed to be asexual. Maybe it’s just me, but while I appreciate Hutchinson’s attempt to include diverse and less mainstream identities, it felt a little forced.
My biggest complaint, however, is the similarity between this book and We Are the Ants, Hutchinson’s other augmented-reality/sci-fi novel. When reading At the Edge, I was at times reminded of the beautiful, existentialist poetry that I loved so much in Ants, but the similarity of the plot and feel dulled the vibrancy of these moments for me. The messages in At the Edge also seemed just a little more heavy-handed than in Ants, leaving me with an overall feeling that I had just read a slightly worse, slightly clumsier, less original version of We are the Ants.
So, if you like sci-fi or realistic fiction or a little of both, and if you can only read one of the two books, I would definitely recommend We Are the Ants over At the Edge of the Universe, but I overall recommend both. Also, if you liked E. Lockhart's We Were Liars, I think you’d probably enjoy At the Edge for reasons that I cannot say without spoiling both books.

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