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A Reading Group Guide to At the Edge of the Universe
By Shaun David HutchinsonAbout the Book
Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since second grade and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.
More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.
Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy, and soon he suspects that something else is going on: the universe is shrinking.
When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing between them, even if he still loves Tommy.
But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy—that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as it takes to get his boyfriend back. Discussion Questions
1. In Chapter One, why does Ozzie laugh (“And laughed and laughed and laughed”) after the plane that he was just on crashes?
2. How would you describe Ozzie’s personality? Sarcastic? Ornery? Cynical? Noting Ozzie’s vocabulary, and what he references at times (e.g. Muppets, D. H. Lawrence, Mariana Trench), how does Shaun David Hutchinson portray Ozzie? Is Ozzie someone you could be friends with?
3. How does Shaun David Hutchinson incorporate humor into the novel? What parts of the book are funny? Are there any other books that you like that have made you laugh?
4. Why do you think Ozzie is opposed to therapy? How does he act toward his therapists? If Ozzie took therapy more seriously, do you think it could offer a safe outlet for him to express his feelings without judgment? Do you think any of his therapists offer him good advice?
5. If you were one of Ozzie’s friends, would you believe him that Tommy once existed? Or do you think Ozzie is being paranoid? What do you think of Ozzie’s theory that the universe is shrinking? Could this be true? Or is this just a conspiracy theory? Does your opinion change as the story progresses?
6. Describe Tommy’s home life. Why don’t he and his mom leave Carl? Do the reasons for Mrs. Ross’s staying with an abusive husband change in the present universe (the one where Tommy never existed)?
7. How do roller coasters play a role in the story? What do they symbolize? Consider Ozzie and Calvin’s relationship as they work on their own roller coaster for their school project.
8. Ozzie perceives Lua as an assertive, fearless, and expressive person. Yet Lua surprises Ozzie by telling him how afraid they often are of the future. Can someone be both confident and vulnerable? Are you someone who embraces the unknown? Or do you fear change?
9. Lua’s character breaks down the barriers of what it means to be male or female. One cannot be defined by one’s sex. Does Lua strike you as more feminine or masculine? How so? Does it matter? What is your definition of male and female? Do you admire Lua’s conviction?
10. Mrs. Ross continually tried to avoid Ozzie whenever she saw him, but eventually she starts to open up to him. How come? Do you think there’s a part of her that thinks Ozzie is right about Tommy—that she really did have a son?
11. Describe the characters’ lives in the present universe compared to what we know about them in the universe where Tommy existed. Have people changed? Relationships? How do these things change as the universe “shrinks”? Does one universe seem better than the other?
12. Describe Calvin. What does he represent to Ozzie? Why does Ozzie want to help him? Is Calvin replacing the void in Ozzie’s life left behind by Tommy? Is it wrong for Ozzie to have feelings for Calvin, while still trying to find out what happened to Tommy?
13. Graduating from high school can be a time of reflection for many seniors, as it is a crossroads in their life, where they must determine their next steps. Often questions such as the following are expected to be answered: Who am I? What do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life?
How do Tommy and his friends answer these questions? How would you
answer these questions?
14. When Ozzie finds Calvin cutting himself, he experiences an internal dilemma: Should he keep his promise to Calvin to stay silent, or should he tell someone? When Calvin discloses the reason behind his self-infliction, he demands that Ozzie not tell anyone. What should Ozzie do in this situation? What would you do? Is it a betrayal to tell someone’s secret, even if you’re trying to help him/her?
15. Life often throws people curveballs—something unforeseen happens, such as when Dustin’s parents’ financial mistakes cost him the college of his choice. What are some other curveballs that characters face in the novel, and how do they deal with them?
16. At the end of the novel, readers learn more about the shrinking universe. Is the universe really
shrinking? What does it tell us about change, and about human emotions? Extension Activities
1. Make a star constellation display. Research some of the stories/myths from different cultures based on the constellations.
2. How do roller coasters work? How do they stay on the track? Research and design your own roller coaster. You can do this on a computer, or using homemade materials like construction paper, poster board, vinyl tubing, etc. Look here for more inspiration, and ideas: http://www.hometrainingtools.com/a/make-a-roller-coaster
3. Do you believe in parallel universes? Ozzie says, “Okay, so part of quantum theory is that until we observe something, it exists in all possible states. That’s why a proton can act as a wave in one instance and a particle in another.” Watch portions of the science fiction films What the Bleep Do We Know!?
, both of which address questions about the universe. You could also watch “Dr. Quantum—Double Slit Experiment” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc
. Compare the ideas in these films/videos to Ozzie’s experiences.
4. One of the central themes of At the Edge of the Universe
is loss, particularly the feeling of loss experienced over a breakup. Read about the grieving stages in this article from Psychology Today
. Do the characters in this novel (Ozzie, Ozzie’s parents, Lua and Jamie, Calvin, etc.) experience these stages?
5. There are many brilliant quotes in this novel that can be used as a basis for a poem. Choose one (or more) of the below quotes as the first line of a poem, and then write the rest of it.
“Neatness is the trademark of a boring mind.”
“Life’s truest horror is a door that slams shut that can never be opened again.”
“Just . . . don’t get so focused on where you’re going that you forget the people you’re traveling with. There’s no point reaching a destination if you arrive alone.”
“ . . . until the air is thick enough to drink and the heat index hovers somewhere between sweat-through-your undershirt and even-Satan-cranked-up-his-AC hot.”
6. Create a poster using your favorite quote from the novel. Add visual elements to the poster such as magazine cutouts, drawings, photographs, etc. to represent what this quote means to you. Share your poster with your class or reading group, and discuss why the quote is significant to the novel, and to your life.This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.