Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
by Preston Norton (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)
Life at Happy Valley High School sucks — especially for Cliff Hubbard, a 6’6” 250 lb. outcast, nicknamed “Neanderthal.”
With an abusive and alcoholic father, a passive and over-worked mother, a cast of assorted high school bullies, and a dead brother, Cliff has a lot on his plate (along with his favorite chimichangas)! Add to the list one of his chief tormentors, HVHS golden boy Aaron Zimmerman, who recruits Cliff to help complete his coma-induced to-do-list from god.
Teenage stereotypes abound as Cliff and Aaron attempt to make HVSH a better place by taking on the bullies, drug-dealers, Jesus teens, disgruntled teachers, jocks, computer hackers, and mean girls that most high schoolers will recognize from their own experience. Some of these characters are better developed than others, making for a large and unbalanced ensemble that can detract from the unlikely, yet oddly believable and very funny friendship developing between Cliff and Aaron.
The two effect an unrealistic amount of change in a very short time and tie up their happy-ish ending a bit too neatly. Despite this, you won’t be able to help cheering for sweet, smart, struggling Cliff to begin coming to terms with his brother’s suicide, make friends, find love, and open the door to the universe.