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When it comes to sheer, unmitigated creativity, Steve LeBel ranks high! In his Universe Builders, LeBel tells the story of Bernie, a young god, whose job is to create new universes. Bernie has a high calling and a tough act to follow. You see, his father from whom he is estranged has won the Annual Universe Building contest—repeatedly. The pressure is on. But Bernie is sidetracked with friends, a crush on Suzie, a bully who is set out to destroy him, and unusual creatures that hang around in the nearby neighborhood forest.
The Universe Builders is classified as YA, but it is written such that middle-graders could read it and would surely enjoy it. The story is “clean,” and while the characters are not terribly deep, they are most certainly entertaining. But it is LeBel’s (apparently) bone-deep creativity that sets this work apart. With an unusual mixture of fantasy and what “feels like” science fiction, the universes in which Bernie and his young god friends live, and those they all contemplate building, are highly unusual. Consider, for example, warm-blooded trees, the ability to “blink” out a creation because it’s not working out so well (a thought the pacifist Bernie cannot abide), planets with portals linking them together for the ease of migration should the need arise in the future, or the idea of creating a new world in which the female of the life forms precedes the male form. (Shocking, I know. I understand that it caused quite a stir!)
I suspect that Bernie expresses something of an alter ego for LeBel. I base this on the story of Bernie’s educational pursuits. It seems that in his Creation Ethics 200 class, Bernie got a D+. Oh, he understood the material well enough—he just “refused to accept it.” So too, LeBel has refused to accept the possibility of creating a work like any that came before him. Thus, it is clear why he is a Literary Classics award-winning author.