Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Me on The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins imprint)
Ezra 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 night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra's knee, his athletic career, and his social life. No longer a front-runner for homecoming, Ezra finds himself at the lunch table of misfits where he encounters new girl Cassidy. She's unlike anyone he's ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures. But as Ezra dives into 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?
The Beginning of Everything is an intelligent, clever, and heartrending coming of age about teenage life and tragedy, about what's left behind after tragedy strikes and what we become, about sudden stops and fresh starts. Ezra is left broken, literally, left to piece together some kind of life after his accident, a life he never expected to live with people he never expected to meet. But sometimes those people can show you a different sort of life.
What resonates so much for me is Ezra's voice. It's very clear who he was before the accident: Eastwood's golden boy with pro tennis aspirations and a pretty girlfriend. He sounds popular, entitled, and stuck-up. The accident is like his fall from grace, and he's been left behind in the mortal world with all the other misfit children. At times he's witty, at times he's smart, at times he's stupid, but he's always honest. Honest in how he didn't want this new life, how he didn't want to be shunned by his 'former friends,' how now he has to figure out what to do after high school. At least he's got Cassidy, crazy, intelligent, wonderful Cassidy. Cassidy with her own tragedy.
This book is filled with teenagers, and what do teenagers do? They go to school, they mess up, they throw loud parties, they do weird stuff, they hang out, they watch movies, they eat burgers, they go out on dates, they play video games, they drink, and they have sex. Not all at the same time, but they do it. There's no sugarcoating of what teenagers can get up to in this book, which is refreshing. Some teens are proper and polite while others are crass, rude, and foolish.
Tragedy comes in many forms, be it an accident, a break-up, a screw-up. When tragedy strikes, what's left? What are we supposed to do with ourselves? After the accident, Ezra doesn't do much. He's drifting, trying to grab hold of something he recognizes, and ends up caught in this massive riptide created by Cassidy, Toby, and the debate team.
From somewhere around the midway point of this book right past the end, I reached some kind of indescribable epiphany. It grabbed hold of me so quickly and with so much force, but I didn't know why. Was it that this was how I remembered high school after I left it? Was it that it's the kind of book I wish I had during high school? Perhaps it's that this is how I see high school, how I still see it, how my perception of it has been warped from TV, film, book, and other pop culture representations of it. This is how I see high school to be like with its cliques and groups, with its jocks and cheerleaders and geeks and bullies, with its crashes and flickers and flames.
This book was completely unexpected and completely engrossing. I knew going in it would be a tragedy, that it's a book about tragedies, but I didn't expect to be hauled around on such a journey with Ezra, a journey with such awesome highs and such crushing lows. It's intriguing to see what's born from tragedy, what Ezra faces, and what he becomes on the other side.
(I acquired an advance copy of this book (when it was titled Severed Heads, Broken Hearts) at ALA Midwinter.)