July 7, 2018 • Cee • Reviews

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton • June 5, 2018 • Disney-Hyperion
Twitter | FacebookGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & NobleThe Book Depository | Indigo | Library

Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he’s so enormous-6’6″ and 250 pounds to be exact. He has nobody at school, and life in his trailer-park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother’s suicide.

There’s no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there’s only one person who can help: Neanderthal.

To his own surprise, Cliff says he’s in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS, Cliff feels like he’s part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn’t as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they’ve completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined.


I received this book for free from Disney-Hyperion for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

First sentence: “There are three rules to high school irrevocably inscribed within the interstellar fabric of the universe.”

So, the neanderthal and the football star—two unlikely students—have a mission.

It begins with a list—a list from God delivered by the formerly comatosed football star and all-around popular guy Aaron Zimmerman—that said to recruit Cliff Hubbard, the Neanderthal outcast, on a divine mission to save Happy Valley High School from sucking. And boy, does it really suck at this high school.

This is far from a religious book, but when you have a near-death experience, you’re gonna see God. When you get a list from God, you do it, but these boys learn that these things they are supposed to do will change their whole purpose and understanding of who they are and the world around them.

  • The writing is top-notch.

The writing is abundant with descriptions, personality, and pop culture references. It’s filled with humor and snark that’ll have you snickering under your breath; it has great comedy timing. It’s hard to pull yourself away from the writing because it’s a prolific exploration of high school.

You are instantly invested in these kids because right off the bat, they feel like people you already know. You want to be friends with these kids. Cliff is largely than life—both in size (he’s 6’6” and 250 pounds) and in personality. I felt like I did through his struggles—being teased for his large size and dealing with his brother’s suicide and abusive father—and his growth to doing more to make an impact in his life. Aaron is everything Cliff isn’t—rich, popular, easy on the eyes—and despite the difference, Aaron isn’t your typical football jock, especially after his near death experience. You want these guys to succeed.

  • It spoke of friendships that can occur from the weirdest interactions.

Anything from near death experiences to God can bring people together. So what if Cliff and Aaron became friends because of a list forged by God. It pushed them to each other. The two unlikely friends from different backgrounds—who were sort of enemies (at least, Cliff really hated Aaron’s guts because of how different he was to Cliff)—came together to complete this list. The development of their friendship didn’t feel unnatural; it is hard to believe everything Aaron claimed, but Cliff gave him a chance, and what are friendships without chances?

And the fact that they gathered unlikely people into their divine mission—it spoke to everything I like: a ragtag group of unlikelies banding together to fight evil or in this case, make Happy Valley High suck less. (That’s found family shit there.)

  • The portrayal of women left a lot to be desired.

All the women portrayed in this book were one-note. No matter how much personal problems you put on them, it won’t make them be well-developed characters when they are either portrayed as passive or caricatures from the start. I didn’t particularly like the way Teagan was portrayed because she was initially introduced as a horn-dog who regularly made lewd comments on Cliff’s size with no regard for Cliff’s feelings. She’s brash, but I’d think she would’ve showed a hell of a lot more tact to someone she liked.

  • It discusses human nature and changes in a heartwarming and honest way.

This book has a very profound message. These are kids committed to making changes at their school through unconventional means, and even through their tactics are not the best, they manage to learn something about themselves and people. I was struck by how thoughtful these kids are and what they were capable of doing when they put their minds to it. It was a learning experience for them and for readers.

  • The book tackled a lot of tough issues that didn’t really work as a whole.

You get bullying, suicide, homophobia, drug dealing, addictions, abuse and so on. You name a tough topic, and you’ll find it in this book. The book was trying to tackle on too many issues like it was going through a checklist of everything that can fit in this book. A lot happens in the book, and once the issues are tackled, these characters change their attitudes quickly—a bully or a teacher who’s lost their passion for teaching doesn’t change overnight because of a few good deeds. Their situations are wrapped up in a tight, idyllic bow, and that’s hard to believe.

The only topic I truly felt was Cliff dealing and grieving over his brother’s suicide because it was present throughout the book. It didn’t feel like it was part of a checklist.

Should you read Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe? Yeah! Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe has great writing that’ll have you smiling and cheering, good characters you want to get to know, and changes to make life suck less. It asks these characters to make positive changes, even if it’s through unconventional means. You’ll learn something about yourself and the people you see every day.


One Response to “REVIEW • Happy Valley High Sucks (Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton)”

  1. Katie says:

    I’ve seen this book in bookstores, and I’m totally putting this on my reading list because oh man! I love funny works!

Leave a Reply