The Beginning of Everything
by Robyn Schneider
Published on August 27, 2013
Genres: Adolescence, Contemporary, Romance, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Young Adult
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Also by this author: Extraordinary Means
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.
I should start off by saying that I finished “The Beginning of Everything” by Robyn Schneider in 36 hours flat. It’s 335 pages of quick-paced, intriguing action and reflection on youth, life and love, with satisfying, enjoyable insights and conclusions. Ezra, the 17-year-old protagonist, is thoughtful and witty, and his emotional development and character arc are impressive. I have just one qualm to indulge: writers have got to let go of the manic pixie dream girl.
According to film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term, a ‘manic pixie dream girl’ (MPDG) is “a bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely…to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She is eccentric but static, and inevitably the love interest of an unhappy male protagonist. Cassidy, the “unpredictable new girl” with whom Ezra falls in love, fits the bill exactly. She wears strange outfits, has amazing adventures and is, of course, amazingly beautiful.
Schneider gives her a little more dimension than usual, in the form of a dark, haunting secret, but all that really does is add an element of ‘damsel in distress’-ness to her MPDG. Ezra does acknowledge at the end that Cassidy is only an element in his transformation—in short, that she isn’t the reason he starts living again—but that doesn’t change the fact that he spends basically the entire book preoccupied with a girl who is not a real person.
Ezra, on the other hand, is astoundingly developed. His inner monologues and external dialogues are very realistic, and he could easily be sitting next to me in class. Several of the characters, including his best friend Toby and other members of his social circle, are also well-developed, interesting and likeable characters. However, Cassidy’s not the only one who doesn’t fit in with the three-dimensionality: Schneider too often relies on the stereotypes of jocks and cheerleaders to make her point about escaping the ‘norm.’
While I’m all for escaping norms, the problem is that in real life, there are no ‘norms.’ In real life, even the jocks and cheerleaders have inner lives and motivations, and in “Beginning,” Schneider chooses to ignore this in favor of the more interesting development of her protagonist.
To give credit where it’s due, Schneider is a talented writer, and “Beginning” is not a bad book. It’s just sort of disappointing. Young adult literature so often presents flat, idealized versions of what adolescence is ‘supposed’ to look like, with all the characters falling neatly into boxes and plot lines converging magically, and Ezra’s journey is in many ways a breath of fresh air. If the rest of the book matched his intelligence and three-dimensionality, I’d be able to recommend it unconditionally. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and I can’t.