Sarcasm, debate team, irony, Harry Potter AND Twilight references FTW were tempered by the stereotypical blonde bitch ex-girlfriend, icky boy physical interactions, and abrupt ending…WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Beginning of Everything is a book about tragedy and how we all carry it within us and around us and, sometimes, as an albatross around our necks. We meet Ezra Faulkner, a teen examining his personal tragedy through the scrutiny of other’s tribulations. He begins:
“That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.”
With an opening line like that and after reading Robyn Schneider’s exquisitely and complicatedly beautiful Extraordinary Means, I was excited to dive right into Ezra’s journey. However, what I quickly met was is a shallow, male protagonist who missed tragedy in the awkward stages of middle school (in the form of his friend’s Toby close call with a severed head) and, instead, was able to escape, unscathed into popularity and Jockdom through his junior year in high school.
Ezra is class president, captain of the tennis team and happily dating a buxom, blonde, beautiful (and bitchy) member of the school dance team. Oh, woe is Ezra! His tragedy doesn’t appear as the potential butt to many jokes, but in the form of a tragic hit-and-run accident as he’s hightailing it out of a party after finding his girlfriend cheating on him. The accident strips him of the experiences of the end of his junior year, student body elections, his physical prowess, and, as a result, his athletic aspirations. He goes into hiding in summer and only surfaces on the requisite first day of school. No one turns their back on him; he turns his back on them.
After abandoning his friends, Ezra is an island adrift in an ocean of his own making—keeping away from his “popular” friends and, MIRACULOUSLY!, welcomed back with open arms by Toby, the best friend he abandoned years ago, in the middle of his own tragedy in middle school. See a pattern here?
Toby brings with him a ready-made ragtag group of debate geniuses, including, most importantly, the manic pixie dream girl of Ezra’s fantasies, Cassidy Thorpe. She is zany, unpredictable, sassy plus she dresses super quirky. Ezra is helpless to her charms and, unsurprisingly, they fall in love. But Cassie isn’t without her secrets, too. She disappears sometimes, can be non-communicative, as well as dodges questions about dropping out of debate her previous year. There are some disturbing patterns that no one seems to notice, except Toby, but why would anyone listen to him? Besides, Ezra’s life is changing for the better, he’s happier with his choices and with Cassie in it, why rock the boat?
In the midst of these adventures, we find the following:
• Teens playing in playgrounds at night
• Debate team wacky parties include drinking games
• Jocks being jocks
• Sarcastic, intellectual banter amongst friends and lovers
• Parents wanting to interact with taciturn children
• A theme that just won’t quit: PANOPTICON
So, sort of fitting that this novel is constantly compared to a John Green novel?
But, rather than like in, say, Looking for Alaska, where we spend so many, many, many pages mourning Alaska, “The Beginning of Everything” very abruptly comes to its conclusion without too much analysis. I would have liked to see the evolution of Ezra coming into his own a little more, either through his experiences with Cassidy, or just after their break-up. However, although brief, Schneider does a poetic job of wrapping things up after the sudden dissolution of Ezra and Cassie’s relationship by bringing Ezra around to accepting his proactive changes to his life since his accident.
Overall, I didn’t find the main characters or the high school world of this novel extremely compelling and I, personally, almost always have an issue with male narrators, but in this case I took exception to Ezra as a sort of flat and callous character–hardly sympathetic or compelling. The high school environment felt more of a set from a movie than an actual high school experience. I just wasn’t wowed and while I won’t read it again, I’ve definitely read much, much worse.