Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Title: The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Katherine Tegen
Length: 335 pages
Original Publishing Date: August 27th, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: No idea. It's a print ARC that I got from a giveaway I think. I should pay more attention. Thanks, whoever gave it to me!!
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

Main characters: 4/5

Yes, you caught me, ok? I absolutely am completely in love with Ezra Faulkner. First of all, that name. Ezra. Have I mentioned I am naming my child Ezra? So yeah, he starts of with some brownie points. But it's more than that (I mean, hopefully this would be the case for any character. If I just liked them because of their names then we might have a problem...). Ezra is incredibly detailed, developed and well-characterized. I felt like I got to know him so well through the story and there was nothing more I could have asked for from him. He had his failures and his successes, and you might not like him or agree with him all the time, but that is a realistic, well-developed character at its finest.

Cassidy however, was (as Maddy and I discussed the night I finished the book) a complete manic pixie dream girl. From head to toe. Wikipedia defines Manic Pixie Dream Girl as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures". Sometimes this made it hard to relate to her. Another reason is possibly the first person limited POV. All of this begged the question, who was Cassidy really? What were her hopes and dreams and aspirations? Sure, part of the allure of Cassidy (and really the plot as a whole) was her mystery. But I had this incredibly strong connection to Ezra and not having the same with Cassidy made me question their relationship.

The part where Ezra first doesn't like or "get" Cassidy and suddenly that changes over night and he doesn't know why? Well, neither do I! What's so special about her other than that she opens up a new world for Ezra? Nothing, and that's exactly why she's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Overall, it became hard for me to see Cassidy as a developed character once I had pegged her as the MPDG, but to be fair, we did learn a bit more about her as the novel went on and I feel like Cassidy grew and developed through the course of the story as well, it was just harder to recognize. Despite my frustrations with Cassidy, I feel like Ezra was more of the "main character" and he was phenomenal, which completely made up for Cassidy's shortcomings.

Secondary characters: 4.5/5

Schneider also created some beautifully crafted secondary characters. Toby was hilarious, kind and big-hearted. He was the perfect foil to Ezra and I loved how Schneider tied his tragedy to Ezra's theory about tragedies.

Even some of the more minor main characters gained depth as the story went on. Phoebe, for instance, started as just another gal in the group, but I ended up really liking how she developed and grew as a person. Austin was lovable and his intensity about video games really did remind me of some of my friends. All in all, their dialogue and sassy-ness towards each other paired perfectly with the debate world that they participated in, and I loved all of their allusions and puns. SO GOOD.

The negative to the secondary characters was Luke and the other characters who were stereotyped. Luke was the antagonistic debate nerd who hated Ezra and never got over that. Charlotte was the slutty, bitchy cheerleader. Ezra's old friends were the dumb jocks. Apparently Ezra can break through stereotypes, but no one else can.

Writing style: 5/5

The writing style of this novel is what MAKES it. Schneider's writing style is perhaps one of the best recent examples of what I consider "distinctive voice". What do I mean by this? I mean that with each chapter, paragraph and sentence, I feel Ezra telling this story and I get to know him through the writing. 

I'm not a big person to laugh out loud at a book, but The Beginning of Everything had me chuckling at every page. It exemplified the quirky and humorous style perfectly. The pacing was excellent as well. The only part that it dragged a little bit was towards the end, but I believe it was meant to allow the reader to feel the experience that Ezra is having.

Plot: 3.5/5 
Here's the thing. Some of the minor plottish things (I need to make up a name for this) were unique, but not really the overall plot summary. Just to clarify, by "minor plottish things" I mean small plot happenings, like the beginning story about Toby's tragedy. Things that don't necessarily "further" the plot but are happening along the way. Those tiny little details were quirky and unique. But the overall plot? I had a nagging feeling that I'd seen it before (and I pretty much had) and thus the "surprise" was not really a surprise, but a disappointment.

In the long run, this book is not one that you read for the plot. It's a book that you read for the characters and the writing style. The quirky subplot things are what make the plot, not the overall summary, because honestly, not that much happens.

I do just want to address one more thing briefly. I have noticed a recurring trend (that is not new) in YA contemporary novels that I wish this book had tried to tackle, because I honestly believe that Schneider has the writing capability to do so. The stereotyping of high school cliques was used a lot in this novel, and I believe that it would have been stronger if it moved past some of these and rounded out some of the characters, like Charlotte and Evan. Particularly Charlotte, since there is a problematic scene where she tries to seduce Ezra and Ezra is seen as "saint-like" for resisting her while Charlotte is painted as a slut. This is not an unusual turn of events in YA literature and I think Schneider is a strong enough writer to have come up with some new options/tropes.

Ending: 3/5

I was flabbergasted by this ending at first. I didn't know what to think. I spent some time ruminating on it though and I think I've decided how I feel about the ending. On the negative side, it truly encapsulates the theme of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and that was frustrating. There were also some major issues with the pacing. Everything seemed to be unloaded at the end and I think it could have been adjusted to have evened out the pacing.

That being said, the surprise was exactly what I was looking for. It would have been easy for this book to turn into a cliche or stereotype and the curveball was one of the things that kept it from being so. It was a shock, but one that I appreciated.

Best scene: I love books where it's impossible to choose just one scene, and The Beginning of Everything is like that. I think my favorites are the first chapter and the party in the hotel room.  

Reminded Me Of: Catcher in the Rye meets You Against Me meets Looking for Alaska

Positives: Everything about Ezra, the allusions/puns/jokes/debate-ness, the fun and well-developed cast of secondary characters, everything about the writing style, the unique and quirky subplots and plot details, the surprise ending

Negatives: Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Cassidy), stereotypes and cliches, the pacing of the ending, the predictability of Cassidy's mystery

Cover: Well, it's bright and eye-catching, I'll say that. I like the font and the roller coasters in the background but the color scheme is just not my cup of tea.

Verdict:  Incredible writing and characters make The Beginning of Everything a fascinating and funny read

Rating:  8.0 / 10 (5 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

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