Today, our YA Contemporary pick is Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything. We had the privilege of reading this book back in February, and absolutely fell in love.
Our Contemporary Thursday series is where we review YA contemporary books which have come out recently. While the majority of our books will be upcoming releases, we may occasionally also review books that we're only recently discovering! - J
Hardcover, 330 pages
Expected publication: August 27th 2013 by Katherine Tegen
Format read: E-arc via Edelweiss
Based on the descriptors used in the synopsis, I was totally expecting to read about a tragic, moping protagonist who needs the love of a good woman to bring him back to life. In other words, a book consisting of a lot of the stereotypical YA troupes out there.
And while I was right about the moping and needing the love of a good woman to a certain extent, The Beginning of Everything is so much more than a book filled with typical YA plotting. It’s a book with clever plotting, unexpected twists and a lot of heart, and I can easily see the book becoming an English classroom staple in the future.
Thanks to a quirk of fate and circumstance, Ezra finds himself back in the company of his childhood best friend – Toby. While Toby’s definitely not part of the popular crowd – his group accepts Ezra willingly.
As Ezra settles into his newfound group of friends and falls in love with a quirky newcomer, he begins to learn about himself and his identity, in ways which he never thought possible.
Things that worked:
Schneider’s characters are all richly drawn, and well-rounded, especially Ezra.
It can’t be said enough – I greatly appreciated the fact that Schneider chose not to go the stereotypical route of making Ezra into a moping, depressed mess. While Ezra definitely has his moments of depression and self-doubt, he’s also willing to accept the fact that he’s no longer going to be a tennis star, and is willing to try his hand at different things.
The cast of secondary characters were all detailed and well-rounded too. I absolutely loved Toby – who was awesome about accepting Ezra back into his circle of friends, but also extremely willing to call him on his lesser moments. Also loved Toby’s cheerful willingness to admit that he was probably gay, but this was something that he would have to figure out later on in college.
And Cassidy, for all her neuroticisms, was a joy to read. Schneider did an excellent job of making sure that she had an incredible number of layers. It was easy for the reader to see how Cassidy was once a quirky, sweet free-spirit – I will never look at a Gryffindor uniform in quite the same way – but has also been irrevocably damaged by tragedy in her own life.
* The writing/world-building.
As someone who’s roughly from the area that these characters are from, Schneider does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Southern California. Her settings are rich and diverse, and I genuinely felt like I was reading about something that had taken place near my old stomping grounds.
I also loved the diversity of her world – Schneider does an extremely good job of casually incorporating a multi-cultural cast of characters which also reflects the area very well.
* The plotting.
The Beginning of Everything is one of those YA books where nothing truly dramatic happens. Minus the car accident at the beginning of the book, this is definitely more a book about self-discovery and introspection more than anything else.
However, Schneider does an excellent job of pacing everything from Ezra’s recovery, getting acquainted with his new group of friends and his new group of activities, to the eventual reveals. Everything goes along at a steady pace, and I was kept riveted and entertained the entire time.
* Finally, the title change.
The original title was part of the reason that I believed I was going to be reading about the misadventures of an emo, complaining protagonist. I feel like the new title definitely encompasses the heart and optimism of the book a lot better, and will attract more readers.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
I can see why some people felt the ending with Cassidy was a little abrupt, but I actually thought it worked perfectly. The idea that she’s there one moment and isn’t there the next, fits in perfectly with the book’s overarching theme that something you thought was dependable and true, can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. How you choose to deal with the change and how you move on from it, is what ultimately determines who you are.
Also, I’ve seen some people complain about the hipster vibe in the book. Maybe it’s because I’m from the area where the book is set – and I suspect that I know which Southern California Eastwood city is based on – but I thought that all of the characters were very true to the people I went to high school with.
Then again, I might have just gone to school with a bunch of hipsters.
I recommend this for everyone, but especially for fans John Green, John Knowles and Alan Bennett.
I received an ARC of The Beginning of Everything from HarperCollins via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!