Book Review: Steve LeBel’s Bernie and the Putty

Posted August 21, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews, Young Adult readers

I received this book for free from the author as a free story in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Steve LeBel’s Bernie and the Putty

Bernie and the Putty


Steve LeBel

fantasy, humor that was published by Argon Press on August 1, 2014 and has 420 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon., Barnes & NobleKobo.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include "Bernie and the Lost Girl"

First in The Universe Builders fantasy series for Young Adults and revolving around gods, builder gods!

In 2015, Bernie and the Putty won the New York Book Festival, Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Competition, San Francisco Book Festival Prize for Science Fiction, and the eLit Book Award for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction (Gold). In that same year, it was was nominated for International Book Awards for Fiction: Young Adult (Finalist) and the Beverly Hills International Book Awards. It was also a semi-finalist for the Kindle Book Award for Sci-Fi/Fantasy.

A special thanks to Steve LeBel for allowing me to read this story.

My Take

This was brilliant in so many ways. I’ve not read anything like this before. And talk about the ultimate empowerment, a teen with the power of life and death in a blink of the eye. LeBel has put so much thought into this universe. And I like how he’s kept the parallel going with humanity, with our distant past, with our history. Even better is all the science, physics, geology, sociology, astronomy, life cycle processing, and more that LeBel makes understandable. I had never thought about what was involved in building a world like this. The thought he’s put into the shimmer alone was lovely.

LeBel cracked me up at so many points. Heck, his whole premise of gods going to school and creating universes as school projects…lol… I sure enjoyed his pulling in that bit about overachieving gods who create a universe in six days, ahem, *grin*.

Oh, man, even gods have to make outlines and plans before they get to play. How unfair is that? Seems there are rules for Creation Mechanics.

It is a different perspective on teens, the best and the worst of them: Billy and his bullying, his gang who kowtows to him out of fear, and then Bernie, the underdog, who believes in the sacredness of life with his supporters.

I did enjoy how LeBel informed us of Bernie’s past as he checks in with Bernie’s teachers. Poor guy. And I do not like teachers who pick on their students, who hold up their mistakes for students to laugh over year after year after year. I think it’s reprehensible. And why aren’t these teachers helping Bernie control his so-strong cloud? Why are they picking on him without taking that cloud into account? It’s as if all the impulses of being a child, a teen, has gone into the cloud as it acts out on every emotion, forcing Bernie to struggle for control. This bugs me. Then there are the teachers who get so hidebound within their subjects that they can’t handle a student who questions. Why not encourage kids to think? That Gabriel who tried so hard to force Bernie to flunk. When we get Bernie’s side, there’s a whole different perspective. One that would make me launch an investigation in that teacher’s classroom style. Why are those teachers allow to stay in place? And I wanna know why Ezrha would take him at all seriously. Zachariah is the jerk of a headmaster.

What are any of these people thinking? They’re all CONDONING bullying behavior. They’re punishing the kids getting bullied. And what’s really sad is that this is what is going on in the real world, in our schools all the time. Don’t any of these people ever look at both sides of an issue? Talk with the actual participants as opposed to listening to rumors and making up their own versions? Jesus, they sabotaged this kid from the word go.

“Dick and Jane are one of the Great Mysteries.”

Beatrice, a teacher Ezrha respects, has only good things to say, and yet he’s already leaning against Bernie because of prejudiced teachers. Of course, you could say that Beatrice is prejudiced, but read it. You’ll immediately understand. And if you have kids, you may want to take another look at your kid’s teachers!!

I do not like Ezhra. He’s too hidebound himself. Too caught up in listening to teachers who are jerks. Especially when he talks to Suzie because he knows she thinks so highly of Bernie when he says “…I can’t pretend to listen to your input when my mind is almost made up”. I’m sorry, but that sounds as if he’s “allowing” Suzie to talk but he has no intention of actually listening to her.

LeBel leaves me wondering about so many things, and I wanted to know more about the watchers and why they obsess about Bernie, about Bernie’s jerk of a dad, why the gods are so obtuse about jerky gods like Billy, why Suzie (who has known Bernie for yonks) can so easily misinterpret his actions on that first day, what is it about those woods that go past the Edge, and more.

On the negative side, I’m not sure if LeBel has decided on a reading audience. The language is definitely more on the adult side, however there are incidents in this that are too stupid to be believed that would be embarrassing in a middle-grade novel. I mean, why on earth…oops, I mean The World…does it take so frickin’ long for any of the three friends to realize it’s Billy doing the sabotage?? I mean, hullo! Heck, I knew Billy’d be messing with Bernie’s project as soon as I knew he was part of the same department let alone in the next cubicle.

The story needs some massive editing. It keeps going forever, and as much as I enjoyed the story concept, I got to wondering if it would get anywhere. Part of that annoyance was Bernie’s naiveté about Billy. Part of it was all these side trips into too much information that didn’t add to the story and way too much detail in those areas of the story where some detail provides the background color and helps us see, feel what’s happening without having to drone on and on about it. I think a lot of the side trips would have been better as short stories.

Where is Bernie’s dad? I would have thought he’d have popped up at the end. Nor did I understand why Bernie didn’t talk to his mom. He mentioned throughout the story that his mom had helped his dad on his three prize-winning universes, and yet he never considers asking her for advice.

How is it that there have only been 47 winners of the Most Beautiful Planet if the awards have been going for 7,000 years, and it’s the Annual Universe Awards?

Jesus, that employee manual sounds nuts. Why doesn’t Bernie use a camera to film what’s happening to his world? He’s with the OWT. He must be able to find something he can use. Lenny cracked me up with his obsession with charms. And just how stupid is Shemal? He must have some idea of what a bully Billy is. Candi mentions that there are a lot of gods trying to get transferred out of Final Assembly. Wouldn’t that trigger some questions?

And in spite of all my bitching and moaning, I liked this. I want to read more. As a reader, I hated the ending ’cause I’ll have to wait to see what LeBel comes up with next. As an editor, I loved his ending — and Alcandor’s thinking! It’s a clever bit of deduction and the new vista this opens up is great fun for the series, for the new world, for Bernie, for everyone.

The Story

Bernie’s life has been chaos, almost as if this were a fairytale and an evil godmother had cursed him with his cloud of chaos. Today, however, today Bernie is jubilant for he has graduated as a builder. It’s everything he’s ever wanted, if he can get a job.

It seems Bernie’s luck is in when he gets placed in the pilot program. Until he finds out that Billy is in the cubicle next to him. He has two strikes against him already with Ezhra unsure of his ability and Shelam known as the toughest manager in The Business. But now Bernie will have to cope with deliberate sabotage and a hostile workplace.

Worse, we suffer with the people of Bernie’s new world as they try to cope with one disaster after another. Each event becoming worse and killing more of them, sending them into the panics our own world has experienced over the centuries. A conflict between science and religion, between two men wanting the same woman.

The Characters

Bernie is a young god with too great an interest in pacifism. At birth, he was “blessed” with a disorder cloud. Hannah is his mom and she works as a waitress at a Central Plaza restaurant. Simeon is his father, and he’s won three Universe Awards. A major achievement among the gods and obviously made him too good for his family.

The watchers, a.k.a., the lookies, in the wood are led by Bowin; he’s followed by Gingi, Catila, Renot, Gower, and Sibot. Groddix and nazarks are nasty beasts in the woods. Platus is a flying animal, a bird.

Suzie works in The Business’ HR department and has looked out for Bernie for years. She’s a bit in love with him. Lenny is Bernie’s only other god friend, and even he has a hard time with Bernie’s pacifism. Sissy is Lenny’s good luck charm. Saul and Ruth are Lenny’s parents. His Grandpa Titus usually has the family album. Artie is some kind of mute friend of Lenny’s.

Billy is a nasty bully of a kid, even as an adult, he’s still got an immature, warped mentality. All you have to do is read what he does on the weekends. Red Dog and Butcher were his “friends” back in The School. At work, he’s extorting Jimmy, Candi, and Donald into being his sheep. Shemal is Billy’s uncle. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t gang up on Billy and get him fired. Rachel is a healer his parents call in.

Shemal is a tough manager at The Business in the Final Assembly Division. Ezrah is Suzie’s boss, the Director of Personnel, and it’s up to him whether Bernie gets (or keeps) his job. Saul is in the Supply Division. Just pop on in and pick up a world.

The school
Caleb teaches elementary creation; Gabriel is creation ethics; Peter; and, Beatrice is a truly wonderful teacher. Wanda was one of those wunderkind students whom no one can ever surpass.

Peter owns Good Shimmer Products, and he supplies businesses with retail products. Isaiah owns the bookstore.

The Town is where the gods live, and it’s divided into five sectors with the first sector the center and most prestigious while the fifth sector is on the outskirts and most people disdain it. The Town is located in The World. The Business is the business of building universes — and it’s the most prestigious job a god can have. Not just any god can do it, you know. Refugees are creations a god brings home with him. A bit like kudzu. The Edge is as far as the gods have gotten in exploring The World. The School is where, yup, everyone goes to school. OWT is an Off World Technology group which is fascinated by technology found on intelligent worlds. Universe Putty is like glue and holds parts of the construction in place as you work.

The Annual Universe Awards have more categories than you can shake a stick at. There are three judges: Jazelda, Thomas, and Michael. The pilot program gives a new builder six months (or less) to wow his new employers. Or get fired.

Bernie’s universe
Speaker Zardok is the head of the religion, the High Priest of the Temple and Speaker for the Sun, which the people worship. Vianna was a free spirit who pursued “knowledge and the thrill of discovery”. Lord Alcandor is the world’s greatest scientist.

This world has a senate of lords and senators and includes Lord Rigel, Senator Grenwy, Lord Noseter, Lady Eonis, Priestess Ximow, and Senator Anitol. Lord Gondal is the leader. Tuderon is Gondal’s aide. Minister Landor is in charge of port facilities. Minister Wadov, Branton is the minister for science, Nottag is the minister for building projects, and Tonst is the minister for temple affairs.

Gaia is an integral part of a world.

The Cover and the Title

The cover is perfect as the background focuses on a young torso clad in a T-shirt, his hand stretched out to us with a young universe floating above that hand. It’s beautiful, miraculous with its tiny moon, mirror-like planet, and yellow sun. For this is the topic, the title, of Bernie and the Putty, a useful commodity, the duct tape of the universe.

But, please reverse the font sizes on the series name and the book title. I didn’t even know the title was there in its thumbnail size. Annnndd, I have learned that The Universe Builders is supposed to be the title, so there to me!