Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider


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. 

13 comments:

  1. Well I wish that this book had worked out for you, Keertana. I loved it.ii loved the writing and I loved the characters (most of them--Charlotte is terrible.) I never felt like it was trying too hard at all--I felt like it was pretty authentic. But I do admire your statement here:

    "Excuse me, but why do girls need to have a tragic past to excuse their behavior?"

    Because YES--I totally agree on that point, in general. Boys don't encounter that on near the same level as girls--it definitely is a double standard--especially in YA. I loved reading about sexually empowered women who are that way JUST BECAUSE THEY WANT TO BE. Ladies, be safe, be smart, but don't feel like you can't do what you want with your bodies because you will be looked down upon. I hope more YA authors will be ballsy enough to write that type of girl into their books in the future. It's a message that I think young adult girls don't read often enough.

    I have a different opinion about this book, but I loved reading your take on it:)

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    1. THIS! I love your comment, Heather, and I wish more females would be written like this in YA. I'm really glad you connected with this book, though. I absolutely LOVED the ending and the writing was, as you said, wonderful. I finished this one really quickly, but it just left a bitter taste in my mouth, sadly. I'm hoping that whatever Schneider comes up with next winds up being more of a hit with me!(:

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  2. I totally agree with Heather on the topic. I wish writers read it too. Anyhow like I said on Goodreads I'm really tired of cliche stories. I'd probably end up enjoying this one because it'd probably make me cry and whatnot and then after few months I'd forget about it or mixed it with another same old story. Great review Keertana :)

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    1. Thanks, Tanja! I wish authors would read about what readers want too, but reviewers represent such a small population of readers and our culture almost fosters the hate against these stereotypical cheerleaders and jocks, which means that most readers enjoy these tropes and are ignorant of how they portray women too, so I don't blame the writers. Completely. ;)

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  3. I've been seeing this book around lately-both on goodreads and tumblr. I thought the cover of this book was gorgeous! It's too bad that this book didn't deliver. I liked what you said about the portrayals of girls. Why does a girl always have to be blonde without a head on her shoulders? I mean we talk about stereotypes and we talk about getting away from them, but how can you get away when authors and others still keep on insisting that we adhere to them. There were cheerleaders at my High School who were popular and blonde and incredibly smart all at the same time. So it does make me sad that we're still stuck on that stereotype.

    The tragic past thing definitely has to stop now. I completely agree with you when you say "Excuse me, but why do girls need to have a tragic past to excuse their behavior?" Sometimes other things in life happen that causes us to behave in certain ways, not just tragic events. I probably won't be reading this book, but I loved reading your review!

    Cheers,
    Savindi

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  4. It seems like it tries too hard to be something when it should just flow that way. Too bad this didn't work for you. I'm sort of tied of the cliché so I usually stay away form these kind of novels unless I'm in the mood for one. :) Brilly review!

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  5. Awww that's too bad! Sorry this didn't work out for you Keertana. I really can't stand cliches either, even though I am a major contemporary buff. Its really too bad this book didn't offer anything new or unique, despite the great beginning. Thanks for the honest review! :)

    ~ Maida
    Literary Love Affair 

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  6. Bummer this didn't work out better for you, Keertana. I've seen plenty of positive reviews spring up on goodreads - which has prompted me to place this one on my tbr list. I don't read much contemporary fiction these days. Heck, I still need to be formally introduced to the fabulous John Green! Given that I haven't been exposed to many of the cliches you refer to in your review (by reading contemp.), it doesn't mean I haven't seen them play out on TV or in movies, time and time again. I loved how you examined the stereotypes in the novel and offered authors ideas on how to move away from them. It all comes down to depth. By giving misconstrued teens in literature a background and a voice, especially those who are sexually driven, we are forced to move away from hurtful labels, such as "slut" and "whore." Your review brings up important issues and really put me to think today. :)

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    1. Yay, I'm so glad! I was actually considering just making my issues with this book into separate discussion posts, but I figured I'd go off on too much of a rant in that instance.

      Since you haven't had too much exposure to Contemporary YA or John Green, you might really like this. I know a lot of my friends LOVED it, even though they saw the flaws in terms of stereotypes. You'll have to let me know if you pick this up and especially what you think if you do!

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  7. You know I like my neat and tidy (even if they are unrealistic, lol!) endings, Keertana. So right off the bat this novel wouldn't work for me, but I understand how you like realistic sort of YA stories that portray how things really go in life. Sorry this didn't live up to your expectations in spite of ticking all the right boxes. It sounds like this story should've been a bit more focused on fewer characters. But it sounds like that was just one of the many issues. Great honest review! Better luck with the next one. :)

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  8. I can see how problematic it can be if you found it to be black-and-white... I was actually pretty excited for this book.. Great review!
    - Farah @ MajiBookshelf

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  9. I'm sorry this one didn't work for you, K! I can definitely see your points. However, I enjoyed the story as a whole, mostly because of Ezra. The more I think about it, the more I see that the characters were mostly "types." I will also admit to connecting personally to the end. The point you make about questioning why the end is so unique, is a good one, though I will also admit that I usually prefer a more happy conclusion when I read YA. I hope you connect better to Schneider's next book.

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  10. Aw, I'm so sorry to hear that this was such a disappointing reading experience for you, Keertana! I do think one of the major reasons I don't like YA contemps as much is because so many of them are about "finding oneself" in similar ways (major generalization I realize, but there's also some truth to it). I'm sure all the examples you've pointed out and then some would end up rubbing me the wrong way. My initial reaction upon hearing of this book was to stay far away. I think I'm sticking with that reaction. I hope you've read by now a number of great books to make up for the experience of reading this one!

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