Well, I don’t think I could have picked a better book to read during this time than Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe. It’s not my first Preston Norton novel (Where I End and You Begin is equally wonderful), and both stories have that “something.” I can’t quite put my finger on it, but despite the challenges his characters face, I’m always reading about it with a smile. Actually, I’ve listened to both and LOVED them. In this particular case, Cliff, or Neanderthal as his non-friends call him because of his 6 foot 6 frame, is having a rough go at life right now. He’s picked on at his school, his dad is the WORST, and his mom does nothing about it, and he’s still dealing with the suicide of his older brother, Shane. He’s lonely, doesn’t have friends, and very unhappy with life right now.
School life is a veritable suck fest. Because of his size, he’s picked on relentlessly by lots of kids, but he’s a favorite target of the school’s golden boy, Aaron. You know the kid- teachers turn a blind eye to his crappiness, girls flock to him even though he’s a horrible boyfriend, he’s good at sports, his parents are swimming in money, and he absolutely lives to torment Cliff. Cliff doesn’t take all of this lying down by any means, but it’s also a no-win situation, so imagine his surprise when Aaron comes back to school after being hit in the head by a boat and wants to talk to Cliff. That’s not even the kicker; he wants Cliff’s help to save Happy Valley High School all because while in his coma, God spoke to him and gave him a list of five things/people they need to help. As crazy as Aaron sounds, Cliff agrees.
Their task is daunting, but the two gain some followers who don’t mind helping even when the rest of the school thinks they are nuts. There are setbacks, some wins, some losses, a romance for Cliff with the world’s best and slightly terrifying girlfriend, computer hacking, a secret journal, and an epic sermon showdown with the nastiest group of “Christians” you’ll ever meet. Guys, this book is just as crazy as the list Cliff and Aaron are working from. It’s silly, frustrating, sad, adorable, nuts, slightly illogical, but it has the BIGGEST HEART. If you need a pick me up, some laughs and some tears, this is the book you need in your hands. Even better, it’s on this year’s Missouri Readers Gateway Award Nominees; I can’t wait till my students read this!