The Beginning of Everything, Robyn Schneider

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Experiencing tragedy is an inevitable fact of being alive. Relationships fail, loved ones die, jobs are lost, and lives are irrevocably altered every moment of every day. Often, the tragedy itself feels like an ending; whether slow and creeping or abrupt and violent, the tragic event becomes the demarcation between "before" and "after".

The "before" and "after" for Ezra Faulkner, the protagonist in Robyn Schneider's YA novel The Beginning of Everything, is separated by the car accident that crushed his leg and ended any hopes he had for a tennis scholarship or someday joining the pro tennis circuit. At the same time he lost his dream of tennis stardom, he also lost his girlfriend and most of his popularity. Ezra, who has always defined himself by what he was able to do, suddenly doesn't know who he is if he can't do those things anymore. Who is he supposed to be now that he isn't the star athlete and likely prospect for homecoming king?

But the tragedy that Ezra thinks is such an ending is really a new beginning. Into his life comes new girl Cassidy, someone who never knew Ezra as the golden boy tennis star. She represents a blank slate for Ezra, someone he can try out his new personality and way of being with. Between his relationship with Cassidy, and the support of new friends on the debate team, Ezra is able to come to terms with the his own personal tragedy and find a new self-confidence that can help him keep moving forward into his new life. But Cassidy has experienced tragedy, too, and her tragedy threatens everything about their relationship

I really liked the characters in this book. Smart, witty, with just enough quirk to make them interesting but not so much to make them weird, Ezra and his friends are the cool intellectual kids I'd want to hang out with. Schneider does fall back on some pretty played out stereotypes about jocks and popular kids when describing Ezra's pre-accident friends, but the story only really works if Ezra's old group of partying popular kids are as selfish and inconsiderate as those types of students are often portrayed. While this yet another coming-of-age/teen romance story, there are twists to the story that add a layer of complexity that makes the story more thought-provoking. For a debut novel, Schneider gets the balance of exposition and action right, and she manages to create a character in Ezra who is self-pitying without being annoying. And the ending did not disappoint-at least, I wasn't disappointed. Let's just say it was not the pat ending that readers of YA love stories may have come to expect.

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