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Thanks to NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: June 5th, 2018

400 Pages

Synopsis: 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 no one at school and life at his trailer park home has gone from bad to worse 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.

Neanderthal Opens the Door To The Universe is one of those books that took me by surprise in regards to how much I liked it. While some of the dialogue is a little awkward and it’s intentionally filled with high school cliches, because of the well-rounded and relatable characters, interesting plot, and positive message, it has a certain charm to it that I think will appeal to a wide audience. The story tackles many social issues: suicide, drug abuse, religious fanaticism, homophobia, bullying, and child abuse. But it never devolves into an annoying after school special/soap opera. This is partly due to the dry humor that pervades the story, but also because the darker themes are balanced by the inspiring responses from the teenage characters.

In the end, Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is quite uplifting and it’s a story I won’t forget anytime soon. Because of the colorful language involved and dark topics, I wouldn’t recommend this for older teens. I think it’s a wonderful choice for high school classrooms, forthcoming summer reading lists, and book discussion groups.