Title: The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Rating: 1.5 Stars
I almost feel like laughing, but not quite. The Beginning of Everything is majorly over-hyped, but I suspect that's because of the nature of YA. We've come to expect a very standard, happily-ever-after-esque, unrealistic portrayal of life from YA. We assume the end of the book is the end of these characters lives and don't bother to think about them breaking up with their "true love" in three months or rushing off to college and possibly creating another screwed up parental relationship. Which is why I think this book is so well-liked; because its ending forces you to recognize that bittersweet reality and accepts that people are not always meant for relationships with certain people or at certain time periods.
And this saddens me because I feel as if this should be a given. Life isn't about people healing each other from tragic moments with New Adult sexy times; it's about things not working out and rejection. It's about moving on and finding yourself. While I think this book really tries to do a lot and utterly succeeds in its incredibly honest ending, I don't think that makes this a good book. Just because The Beginning of Everything does something most books should do, doesn't necessarily mean it's fantastic or deserves quite this much hype.
As I said, The Beginning of Everything really does try to be an incredible, inspirational kind of novel. When you take its bare-bones outline, it’s nothing short of brilliant. Ezra, the Golden Boy of his high school, shatters his knee in a car accident and quickly finds himself saying goodbye to his jock clique and popularity as he knows it. Ezra is quickly forced to find himself – true him that lies beneath all the false smiles and tennis backhands – and although he attributes much of his change to Cassidy, the new girl who is different and turns his life around, he eventually learns that his growth was all his own. And that idea, of realizing that your personal change is due to you and your decisions, not those of someone else, is a wonderful concept. And yet, it is one that has been done before and, sadly, much better.
Moreover, this book reads too familiarly. It has elements of Life in Outer Space with nerdy references and movie buffs. It has traces of North of Beautiful with crazy outlandish activities like geo-caching. And it has a whole lot of not-quite-good-as-John-Green moments. I have nothing against Manic Pixie Dream Girls, but Cassidy read all too transparently with dialogue I'd heard before and a shabbily covered up "secret". Ezra, while undergoing a fantastic journey, is the only strong character in a novel filled with strangely absentee (and conveniently rich) parents, stereotypical jocks, empty-headed blondes, and under-developed secondary characters.
For a book that dares to explore finding your place in the world, The Beginning of Everything is surprisingly black-and-white. Ezra, in fact, is the only character whose portrayal I found to be even remotely realistic. Not only was he complicated, but he was intelligent. In some instances, I really love the dialogue in this novel, in others, however, it feels as if this book is just trying too hard. You know all those tumblr posts with words in different languages that mean so many things that the English language doesn’t capture? Well, that list is basically in this book. Among other “creative” and “cool” and “wacky” and “different” tid-bits that all basically fail to impress.
You see, as much as Schneider doesn’t talk down to her audience with her out-there topics, she doesn’t talk up to them either. Just take Charlotte, Ezra's ex, for example. Not only is she a blonde cheerleader who invites guys to secluded areas, thrusts out her breasts, and has no ambitions except popularity, but her presence only makes Cassidy appear to be a better person. And, frankly, I am fed up of seeing girls portrayed like this. Why must
Charlotte be empty-headed in order to explore her sexuality? Why must Ezra look like a hero for denying Charlotte while she herself is portrayed as a harlot for wanting him? Why are Charlotte’s string of boyfriends frowned upon but not Ezra’s string of girlfriends? I hate the double standards placed on girls and with The Beginning of Everything, these don’t even end with Charlotte. Cassidy, as I mentioned, is like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, complete with that classic “secret” and “tragic past” that excuses her strange behavior. Excuse me, but why do girls need to have a tragic past to excuse their behavior? Why can’t Cassidy just be moody and upset if she wants to be? When Charlotte is moody she’s basically a bitch, but if Cassidy is moody it’s okay because she has a tragic past. I hate how this book conveniently places characters into tidy little boxes. No. I am a teen and I am a girl and I cannot be placed into a tidy little box nor will I. And I hate to see that representation in YA.
I’m not picking on The Beginning of Everything. I avoid books like this one precisely because of these issues, but I gave this a chance because of the hype surrounding it. It wound up being such a disappointing read, though. Ezra’s high school is so stereotypical, not only with their cliques and taunts of “faggot” or “dork” but also with the personalities of their secondary characters. Every clique in this book is straight out of "Mean Girls" and the football jocks spray paint children's playgrounds when they're drunk, but Ezra can stop them, no worries. Even Ezra’s best friend, Toby, manages to remain flat on the page as he is quick to welcome Ezra back to his circle and acts as a medium to introduce Ezra to Cassidy and glean more information about her. Ezra’s parents, though mentioned, are simply…strange. Ezra has no relationship with them at all. Although his mom calls him regularly and is worried sick about his condition, he never seems to care for her or carry much of a relationship of any kind with her. Schneider introduces a lot of different characters and concepts with this book, but so many of them are under-developed that I wish they were just excluded instead.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend Schneider’s latest. While I loved its concept and am all for finding-yourself-esque novels, I felt this one had too many flaws to stand-out. It was an unfortunate mix of too many books and movies, mashed together, and the impact of the story is only felt in those last five or ten pages, which only barely manage to redeem this in my eyes. I’ve read far better and more realistic coming-of-age novels, but if you haven’t, then I don’t doubt for a second that The Beginning of Everything will be a delight. While I’ll still be looking out for Schneider’s work in the future – her writing flows perfectly – I’ll be regarding it all with the eye of a skeptic from now on. You’d think I’d have learned by now not to succumb to the hype, but I guess some lessons just need to be re-learned.