There were several things in this book that reminded me of Eleanor and Park. Considering I am one of the few people that mostly disliked that book, that is not necessarily a good comparison, because I really did like The Beginning of Everything, and felt that despite similarities to Eleanor and Park, this is the better Young Adult novel.
The story is based around how our lives truly begin after a tragedy occurs in our lives. How after that point, we begin living the way that we will, for the rest of our lives. Our narrator, Ezra, describes how his best friend caught the severed head of a Japanese tourist on a roller coaster ride at Disneyland when he was 12 years old. This was the tragedy that chose to befall him, and his life was never the same afterwards.
The tragedy for Ezra is when he catches his beautiful girlfriend cheating on him at a party. After he plays the incident with a coolness unusual for a teenager in this position, he proceeds to get hit in a violent car accident, and it cripples his leg.
Ezra had been the most popular guy in school, the star of the highly respected tennis team, and a generally decent person. His leg injury was his tragedy, and it changed how he was going to have to live his life.
Feeling abandoned after the accident, upon his return to school, Ezra takes up with a different clique, including his old best friend Toby, who had been the one to catch the severed head years ago. Ezra eventually fits in with the new group, even joining the debate team, something his former self would have never dreamed of. Here, he meets the new girl to the school, and noted ace at debate, Cassidy. Their relationship forms the centrepiece of the novel, once Ezra has settled back into life and stopped always wallowing over the loss of his popular status.
And it provides some of the most tender, fun, and surprising moments of the novel. The relationship between Ezra and Cassidy felt far more real to me than the one between Eleanor and Park, even if it was based on some of the same things, nerdier things. There is still talk of music, and comics, and Doctor Who, but I felt that it was more genuine in this novel, and I could buy their relationship as being more honest and believable than in the other novel.
Being intended for Young Adult audiences, this novel is a coming of age story, about how we need to choose to start living our lives, and about how our memories persist with us, regardless of how hard we try to forget about them, or move past them. We remember, just as other people do too.
What makes this novel strong is the frequent literary references, especially those related to The Great Gatsby. Ezra is reading the famous Fitzgerald novel, and for the first time, is finding himself connect with a book. There are many similarities between the musings of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby that relate to Ezra and what he goes through inhis life, especially when his relationship with Cassidy inevitably becomes more tumultuous than he would have liked. Even when looking at his dog, Cooper, Ezra feels that he is talking to him in a Gatsby-esque voice, ending all of what he imagines Cooper to be saying with “Old Sport.”
The references don’t end with Gatsby, and I feel this is clever, as hopefully if the reference is not recognized by the reader, it will open them up to looking it up, and having them learn something along the way. An example of this is the frequent references to Michel Foucault’s panopticon, and the basics of the theory behind it. There are many other literary references, and puns, which will happen when the main group of characters, and Ezra’s closest friends, are almost too smart for their own good. There is plenty of hipsterness to go around.
The Beginning of Everything has a little bit of everything. There is humour, which is a must-have in a YA novel. There is a plausible love story, with some sex, but not so much that it should only be for much older teen readers. And the coming of age is something that could probably be easy to relate to for many readers. If they don’t get what they are reading, or can’t understand what the characters are going through, then the message will be lost. But, we have all faced some kind of tragedy, as this is something that can connect with everyone, and I found that it really worked well in this novel. Author Robyn Schneider did a really good job of incorporating all of the elements into a page-turning YA book. She even manages to provide us with a surprising ending that wraps up the novel beautifully.