Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: "The Beginning of Everything" by Robyn Schneider

"I still think that everyone's life, no matter how unremarkable, has a singular tragic encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. That moment is the catalyst—the first step in the equation. But knowing the first step will get you nowhere—it's what comes after that determines the result."

So says Ezra Faulkner, the president of his high school's junior class and captain of the varsity tennis team. For Ezra, that tragic encounter is when his BMW is blindsided by a hit-and-run driver, leaving his leg shattered, his wrist injured, and ending any hopes of ever playing sports again. After spending the summer recovering from his injuries, he returns for his senior year of high school and everything is different—his girlfriend has found someone new, his friends have moved on without him, and he's not sure what life is like outside of the "in crowd."

But after reconnecting with his childhood best friend, and being suckered into joining the debate team, he meets Cassidy Thorpe, an intelligent, beautiful, mischievous, and mysterious transfer student who was a legendary debate competitor at a rival high school before she disappeared, only to return as a student at Ezra's high school. She forces Ezra to embrace his intelligence and realize he needs to work for his dreams instead of expecting everything to be handed to him as it always has been. And as the pair's friendship turns to romance, Ezra realizes that Cassidy is the type of girl he has been looking for all along. Until the relationship suddenly sours for reasons he can't understand.

I absolutely loved everything about The Beginning of Everything. Robyn Schneider did such a terrific job creating and giving depth to her characters and creating a plot that draws you in instantaneously and hooks you completely. Schneider's dialogue is tremendously intelligent and witty without being overly precious—honestly, if she thinks this way in "real life," I totally could see myself being friends with her. It truly is, as Kirkus said in its review of the book, "Here are teens who could easily trade barbs and double entendres with the characters that fill John Green's novels."

This is a book about trying to figure out where you belong, even though you've truly known it all along. It's about being pushed beyond your comfort zone, being forced to believe you're more than you've always thought you were, and how important it is to find friends you truly identify with rather than feel obligated to be with to uphold expectations. And more than that, this is a story about not letting your life be defined by the adversities you're dealing with.

I've said quite often how impressed I've been over the last few years with the outstanding quality of YA fiction, particularly stories that aren't dystopian in nature and/or don't include vampires, werewolves, angels, or others with superpowers. (Not that there's anything wrong with those books.) While The Beginning of Everything may be classified as a YA novel, it's equally as good as—if not better—than some "adult" novels I've read recently. Besides, it's not every novel that makes me wish I could relive my high school days with the kind of awareness and self-confidence that the characters in this book do!

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