Monday, 7 April 2014

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
Format: Paperback
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on 27th August 2013 (first published 1st January 2013)
Pages: 335
Genre: YA, Contemporary
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Ezra Faulker was supposed to be homecoming king, but that was before-- before his girlfriend cheated on him, before a car accident shattered his leg, and before he fell in love with new girl Cassidy Thorpe.

This book was really not what I expected, and I'm so conflicted about it. It was tough trying to decide what rating to give.

I'm not sure how to talk about this book while keeping my review spoiler-free, since the end of this book has a significant impact on how I feel about it, so I'll make a two-part review. The first part is spoiler-free (well, there are no big spoilers, anyway), and the second part not so much.

Part One (spoiler-free!)

This book was really flawed. Like, I gave it a slightly higher rating than I did for Ask the Passengers even though I think Beginning is actually more flawed, because I found Beginning an irresistibly enjoyable read. I was just so charmed by Ezra's voice, you guys. So charmed.

Ezra's voice is probably the redeeming feature of this book. It was so good and it felt so authentic and appropriately teenage-boy-like (there's lots of subtle humour about erections and masturbation) and I sort of melted into the book even though I could vaguely hear some part of my brain yelling, "DON'T."

There were some nice little details that were just really sexy. I particularly liked this:
She was wearing a white lace dress with straps that wouldn't stay put, and I couldn't help but imagine running my hands over her shoulders, slipping the straps down.
For all that the book builds up Ezra's attraction to Cassidy, though, I felt that the first time they finally make out didn't really feel that satisfying. I felt like not enough attention was given to that scene; the author should definitely have lingered over it more.

And now let's talk about Cassidy Thorpe. Wow. The book tried so hard to make her super quirky. She doesn't conform! Look at her red hair! She's not like any of the other girls in this school, who are all blonde! Or occasionally brunette but that's also boring! CASCADING RED HAIR!!! Look at her clothes! She dresses so differently! She's the most different girl ever wow.

And I would have less of a problem with this if there hadn't been such a strict divide between Cassidy and all those other supposedly vapid and brainless girls. The book really put down its other female characters in comparison to Cassidy. And I get it, it's from Ezra's viewpoint. But it was endlessly frustrating to me that other female characters didn't get much of a sympathetic portrayal at all.

This book is in some ways about Ezra discovering there's more to life outside being part of (or even head of) the cool group in school. Ezra is capable of more. Shouldn't we allow for the possibility that the rest of the cool group is also capable of more rather than just constantly reinforcing the idea that they're all just shallow jerks?

I really feel like the important message of this book should the whole "she's not like other girls" thing is just silly. I feel like maybe the book was trying to get at that (will talk more about this in the spoilery Part Two) but this was just completely obscured because of the way the other female characters were portrayed.

I liked Toby, the boy who used to be Ezra's best friend and whom Ezra starts to fall in with again over the course of the novel. I wish there had been more on their friendship though and just more on Toby in general, since the author sort of threw in some details about Toby which I felt definitely needed to be expanded upon, but which were never really addressed fully in the novel.

The book also portrays what seems to be a rather unhealthy relationship between two characters, Luke and Phoebe, but that's not given the attention it deserves, either. I was confused and put off by how the author seemed to put in details and side plots to the story that just don't really contribute much to the novel overall, but in fact kind of detract from it since they're not dealt with properly.

And now...

Part Two (spoilers for the ending)

So, I didn't know anything about the novel going in except for the blurb I've included above that was on the back of the version of the book I got. I think the hardcover blurb has a lot more detail about what the book is actually about and consequently might have prepared me a bit better for what happened, but as it is, I only got a very short blurb that told me hardly anything. From it I thought, oh, it's just going to be a cute, light-hearted YA romance, and even as I was reading the book, my initial assessment seemed to remain accurate.

And then the ending happened.

I just thought it was really over-the-top and somewhat rushed. I get that it's trying to portray something that can really happen in real life-- sometimes tragedy just hits, maybe many tragedies at once, and there's nothing you can do about it. But really, instead of making me sad it just annoyed me. His dog dies and his girlfriend leaves him on the same page. Was that really necessary?

Plus I felt that in order for this novel to have the full impact on the reader it really needed to stop pulling back when it comes to portraying emotion. I honestly don't know if I felt sad at all at any point during reading this book. I didn't feel Ezra's sadness. Come on, his girlfriend dumps him on prom night! Then his dog dies and his girlfriend leaves him forever! And yet I didn't feel it. Not even a tiny bit.

If this novel had to end in a dog dying and a break-up, then I want it to be the novel that shows you the full extent of how much we are capable of as human beings. How much sadness we can feel and how we can still get up again after that. But the ending was so utterly lacking in emotion.

Now, returning to Cassidy as promised. She tells Ezra that maybe she wasn't responsible for the change in his life that he thought she was responsible for. That maybe she's really not the person he's made her out to be in his head. And see, this is why I'm so annoyed at this book. It clearly wants to say something about the idealisation of women and the manic pixie dream girl image, and it sort of took one small step towards that at the end, but the rest of the novel just fails on the front. There definitely needed to be more after that revelation if Ezra and the reader are to fully absorb what Cassidy means.

Anyway, ultimately this was a flawed novel that was somewhat rescued by the beautifully charming voice of Ezra Faulkner.

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