At the Edge of the Universe - Shaun David Hutchinson

Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since 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 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 possible.

I have yet to be disappointed by Shaun Hutchinson's work, and I doubt I ever will. Perhaps one of my favourites of his was We Are the Ants, but this new one is a close second! At the Edge of the Universe reads like a partial sci-fi / partial psychological mindf**k (in the most positive sense), and features a cast of characters that are realistic, diverse, and compelling. Throughout the book, readers will be left wondering: Is the universe really shrinking? How is there still daylight when the sun disappears into a void? How do people still exist when their parents and/or relatives have disappeared? And why the heck is Ozzie the only one who seems to remember everything?

At the centre of it all is Ozzie's relationship with Tommy, who has disappeared at the beginning of the novel and is the catalyst for Ozzie's actions throughout the rest of the narrative. Ozzie's family is breaking apart, and he's trying to figure out what to do with his life in the midst of Tommy's disappearance and his brother going off to join the Armed Forces. When he meets Calvin in his physics class, though, everything starts to change. Ozzie has to confront not only his own shrinking universe, but try to understand what is happening with Calvin--why did he suddenly go from an A student to a reclusive and brooding teen who no longer wrestles and doesn't even show up to school half the time?

I also love the fact that throughout the novel, sexuality and gender are relatively unquestioned facets of certain people's existence, leaving "coming out" and LGBT harassment a very small and insignificant part of the entire narrative. Ozzie and Tommy are accepted by the community as a couple and Ozzie's sexuality, even after Tommy disappears, is not questioned by anyone with a few minor exceptions. Ozzie's friend Lua, who is gender-fluid, and whose pronouns change from day to day, is accepted with very little questioning, and even Calvin's identity as bisexual is treated sensitively. In fact, there is a conversation about the idea that bisexual men are just gay but not comfortable with the label, and it is subverted through a great dialogue between Ozzie and his friends. Tommy is also black, and his race is not treated as problematic either, even while he is dating Ozzie, which is refreshing compared to so many contemporary realism narratives these days, where racial tensions are so often the main focus.

There is a "twist" which I won't spoil, but this is perhaps the only part of the novel that I felt was slightly underdeveloped for me. I wanted at least a bit more explanation or exploration, because as it currently is, the twist happens pretty quickly and without much fanfare. I'm all about ambiguous endings to some degree, but I wanted just a bit more here.

On the whole, this is a fantastic novel with a lot of substance and heart, and I Recommend it wholeheartedly to fans of Hutchinson's other works, or other books with psychologically trippy qualities.

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out Feb. 7, 2017)


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