Pride Month Throwback: Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas

Book Blurb: A moving middle-grade debut for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t belong.

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again…

Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team — even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him…

But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves — and each other.

Chad Lucas’ debut novel, Thanks A Lot, Universe, is a perfect example of why I enjoy middle-grade novels, even in my 50s. The Winner of the 2022 Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature, this fast-paced story is told from the perspective of two grade 7 students, Brian & Ezra, both dealing with very different issues.

Brian has social anxiety, which he secretly calls Super Awkward Weirdo Syndrome, or SAWS for short. Despite not dealing well in crowds he does play on the basketball team. The story begins with Brian turning 13 and even though the universe owes him a good year, his world implodes.

Ezra is popular and outgoing. He is also on the basketball team with Brian (as a fellow bench warmer) and has a bit of a crush on him. Not only is he dealing with his sexual identity, but he is also having a hard time coping with change, specifically between him and his best friend from elementary school drifting apart.

As a mother of a son, who just completed Junior High, I found the characters were quite realistic. With lots of fun boy humour, I laughed at the thought of pictures of a friend’s first armpit hair being messaged in a group chat.

I also enjoyed how Brian looks out for his younger brother, going as far as asking him if he could do anything, what he would do, and then planning it for him. Since the story is set in Halifax/Dartmouth, I know where they went for Richie’s fun day and it just so happens to be the same place I took my son when he was just a bit younger.

With gentle handling, Chad tackles several serious and heavy topics and issues such as attempted suicide, mental illness, sexuality, bullying, racism, panic attacks, and anxiety.

Lastly, I just loved how Chad ended his story. He did a nicely done fade out, showing that life continues. If Thanks A Lot, Universe were a movie you would see the credits rolling up during the fade out.

Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. His debut novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe, was called “tenderhearted and bold” in a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family near Halifax, Nova Scotia. He enjoys coaching basketball and is rarely far from a cup of tea.

Thanks a Lot, Universe was the winner of the Ann Connor Brimer Award, 2022

Publisher: Amulet Books (May 11th, 2021)
Hardcover 8″ x 6″ | 288 pages
ISBN: 9781419751028

Sue Slade has a Bachelor of Child Study from Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax. After working with children and adults with special needs, she now has her midlife dream job of working with books. Sue manages an independent, locally owned bookstore, Dartmouth Book Exchange. Through her charismatic sharing centred around books and community, Sue has created an engaging cornerstone for authors, customers, and book lovers of all ages. Sue is an avid reader and her reviews cross over many genres.

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