Title: Thanks a Lot, Universe
Author: Chad Lucas
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 288
Brian’s going through a rough time in his life- his weed dealer dad is on the run from the police, his depressed mom tries to kill herself, and he’s picked on mercilessly by bullies. On top of all that, he has a severe anxiety disorder (he calls his anxiety Super Awkward Weirdo Syndrome- SAWS for short) and has started having panic attacks.
His classmate Ezra hangs with the more popular crowd and wants to be a better friend to Brian, but more often than not he finds himself standing on the sidelines while Brian gets teased. Ezra also has a secret: he is gay and has a crush on Brian, and he’s afraid of his friends’ reactions if they find out. Thanks a Lot, Universe is told in Brian and Ezra’s alternating perspectives and Brian’s character should be relatable to anyone who suffers or has suffered from social anxiety.
I’m actually thinking about appropriating the term ‘super awkward weirdo syndrome’ for myself, because that’s pretty much how I feel every day. One of this book’s strongest assets is how realistic the characters feel. Brian’s classmates aren’t just separated into the roles of ‘nice kids’ and ‘mean kids,’ and their behavior is nuanced while also managing to avoid being predictable. You honestly don’t know how Ezra’s friends will react to his sexuality because of their combination of immaturity and ambivalent behavior towards those who are ‘different.’
There are definitely some real jerks at Brian and Ezra’s school, but the book focuses on the positive through the help and support Brian gets from both his teachers and his peers, making the awful situation a little bit easier for both him and his younger brother. Brian and Ezra are both likable and believably flawed and I liked how Ezra’s crush on Brian was handled and Brian’s ambiguous response. Chad Lucas is skilled at writing about the lives of young people and I look forward to his future projects.