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Monday, November 4, 2013
The Beginning of Everything
By Robyn Schneider
Published by HarperCollins


Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Review: The Beginning of Everything is an entertaining contemporary novel that I read through quickly and in many ways enjoyed. It's fun but not terribly deep, and somehow I wound up with a lot of thoughts on it. As a disclaimer I feel I should mention that I rarely read contemporary YA, and in the cases I do it's something that has widespread acclaim: ex. The Fault in Our Stars. So I will admit it's possible I'm being a little hard on this novel for not meeting my personal expectations. 

First some good parts: Ezra Faulkner was a personable narrator, quick with jokes and a decent guy. His old friend Toby, who goes out of his way to reconnect with Ezra after the accident, is another highlight, and it is this relationship that I feel helped Ezra the most. Some of the best parts of the novel were Ezra interacting with the denizens of his new lunch table, all great characters with quick wits and "nerdy" interests (such as Doctor Who). Ezra joins the debate team as his new extra curricular and that leads to a fun sequence as the kids all party in the hotel after the competition, reminding me of my own forensic team days. This nostalgia was invoked because the characters felt like teenagers: they lacked the world-weariness often found in teens in other genres.The novel is also well-written for the most part, allowing for Ezra's humor to shine through and adding at least a little depth to characters who would normally be cardboard such Evan's ex, Charlotte. There is  one egregious exception: Evan's new girlfriend Cassidy. 

I really don't like to use terms such as Mary Sue or Manic Pixie Dream Girl, because I feel they're reductive and too commonly used as catch-all phrases to justify hatred of female characters. However the impression I get is that Cassidy is deliberately written to embody tropes associated with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, perhaps in an effort to subvert those tropes. If this is in fact the case, I don't find it entirely successful. Cassidy doesn't dress like other girls (she wears plaid flannel shirts oh how special and different) has traveled Europe (of course), and reads poetry (oh noetry). She teaches the smitten Evan about Life, Adventure, and debate.  She has a Troubled Past, causing her to arbitrary dump Ezra, and eventually owns up to her crime of Manic Pixie Dreamgirlishness and claim this makes her toxic. This was a bit baffling and sad to me, that a deliberate MPD character was granted self awareness only to have it result in a load of self hatred. I wish this had been handled differently.

As for Ezra, as likable as he is he really doesn't undergo a complex character arc. He can no longer identify as a jock due to his injury, though his friends still welcome him, therefore he fits in with the people he once considered uncool, or never considered at all. He adopts their interests and gains a sense of superiority for it. This is where the novel really started to lose me, as it seemed to be implying interest in reading poetry and alternative music makes you a better person than others, especially those who enjoy sports. Spoiler alert: it doesn't, it makes you a person who likes reading and alternative music. I've been to an Ting Tings concert and I have a book blog, this does not endow me with moral superiority. It's how you treat other people that shows what kind of person you are, and the novel goes out of its way to show that Ezra was already a kind person. 

The narrative devolves towards the end to what I felt were highly pretentious ramblings disguised as something profound. A sample:
"But we had plenty of time for youthful indecision, both apart and together, for limping into the future past the unforgettable ash heaps of our histories." p.334
This strives for a depth the story does not support. 

One final thing that bugged me was how privileged all the characters are, and how this is never examined aside from one gross sentence about driving past the workers picking fruit in the fields every day. It's part of the authentic teenage voice but it is something to be wary of. But maybe I am being too crotchety. This novel was entertaining, and would appeal to those who love contemporaries with a similar style to John Green's. 

3 Tennis Balls

0 comments:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: The Beginning of Everything

The Beginning of Everything
By Robyn Schneider
Published by HarperCollins


Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Review: The Beginning of Everything is an entertaining contemporary novel that I read through quickly and in many ways enjoyed. It's fun but not terribly deep, and somehow I wound up with a lot of thoughts on it. As a disclaimer I feel I should mention that I rarely read contemporary YA, and in the cases I do it's something that has widespread acclaim: ex. The Fault in Our Stars. So I will admit it's possible I'm being a little hard on this novel for not meeting my personal expectations. 

First some good parts: Ezra Faulkner was a personable narrator, quick with jokes and a decent guy. His old friend Toby, who goes out of his way to reconnect with Ezra after the accident, is another highlight, and it is this relationship that I feel helped Ezra the most. Some of the best parts of the novel were Ezra interacting with the denizens of his new lunch table, all great characters with quick wits and "nerdy" interests (such as Doctor Who). Ezra joins the debate team as his new extra curricular and that leads to a fun sequence as the kids all party in the hotel after the competition, reminding me of my own forensic team days. This nostalgia was invoked because the characters felt like teenagers: they lacked the world-weariness often found in teens in other genres.The novel is also well-written for the most part, allowing for Ezra's humor to shine through and adding at least a little depth to characters who would normally be cardboard such Evan's ex, Charlotte. There is  one egregious exception: Evan's new girlfriend Cassidy. 

I really don't like to use terms such as Mary Sue or Manic Pixie Dream Girl, because I feel they're reductive and too commonly used as catch-all phrases to justify hatred of female characters. However the impression I get is that Cassidy is deliberately written to embody tropes associated with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, perhaps in an effort to subvert those tropes. If this is in fact the case, I don't find it entirely successful. Cassidy doesn't dress like other girls (she wears plaid flannel shirts oh how special and different) has traveled Europe (of course), and reads poetry (oh noetry). She teaches the smitten Evan about Life, Adventure, and debate.  She has a Troubled Past, causing her to arbitrary dump Ezra, and eventually owns up to her crime of Manic Pixie Dreamgirlishness and claim this makes her toxic. This was a bit baffling and sad to me, that a deliberate MPD character was granted self awareness only to have it result in a load of self hatred. I wish this had been handled differently.

As for Ezra, as likable as he is he really doesn't undergo a complex character arc. He can no longer identify as a jock due to his injury, though his friends still welcome him, therefore he fits in with the people he once considered uncool, or never considered at all. He adopts their interests and gains a sense of superiority for it. This is where the novel really started to lose me, as it seemed to be implying interest in reading poetry and alternative music makes you a better person than others, especially those who enjoy sports. Spoiler alert: it doesn't, it makes you a person who likes reading and alternative music. I've been to an Ting Tings concert and I have a book blog, this does not endow me with moral superiority. It's how you treat other people that shows what kind of person you are, and the novel goes out of its way to show that Ezra was already a kind person. 

The narrative devolves towards the end to what I felt were highly pretentious ramblings disguised as something profound. A sample:
"But we had plenty of time for youthful indecision, both apart and together, for limping into the future past the unforgettable ash heaps of our histories." p.334
This strives for a depth the story does not support. 

One final thing that bugged me was how privileged all the characters are, and how this is never examined aside from one gross sentence about driving past the workers picking fruit in the fields every day. It's part of the authentic teenage voice but it is something to be wary of. But maybe I am being too crotchety. This novel was entertaining, and would appeal to those who love contemporaries with a similar style to John Green's. 

3 Tennis Balls

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