The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

beginning

When I found out the generic title of The Beginning of Everything, was originally Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, I was totally disappointed!  I actually read this book a few months back, and had to re-read the synopsis to remember…oh the one with the theme park decapitation!  The title of Severed Heads would have made it direct and memorable.

So while it does begin with a gruesome death, it ends up being a story about friendships in high school.  Along with that, popularity and individuality issues arise. The story is very character driven, focusing on the once popular Ezra Faulkner as he honestly and painfully explores a new life, with new friends, that help set him on a path of self- acceptance.

Although very little happens plot-wise, some readers may be able to guess the ‘big reveal’ that pieces Cassidy (Ezra’s new love interest) and Ezra together.  I thought it was an overly nice coincidence that wraps everything up. This coincidence leads to the relationship’s demise, and it’s a love or hate ending.   I thought the breakup was honest and real, but I hated the coyote scene. I thought it served absolutely no purpose.

Overall, an OK read with a good take away message for teens.  While I wasn’t super impressed, check out some of the starred reviews, The Beginning of Everything has received:

 

Starred Reviews:

“Here are teens who could easily trade barbs and double-entendres with the characters that fill John Green’s novels…subtle turns of phrase make reading and rereading this novel a delight.”  – Kirkus (Starred Review)

“This thought-provoking novel about smart kids doing interesting things will resonate with the John Green contingent, as it is tinged with sadness, high jinks, wry humor and philosophical pondering in equal measures.”  – Booklist (Starred Review)

“An engrossing romance in which tragedy brings two teens together, then threatens to tear them apart…Schneider shows remarkable skill at getting inside her narrator’s head as his life swings between disaster and recovery.”  – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

In an extraordinary debut novel, an escaped fugitive upends everything two siblings think they know about their family, their past, and themselves.

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Zebra Forest is a short, beautifully written story about family, secrets, love and forgiveness for mature middle grade readers.  Eleven year old Annie, and her nine year old brother Rew live with their depressed grandmother in a cluttered house among the birches and oaks of the ‘Zebra Forest’.  Although Annie was expecting a dull, unadventurous summer, her life was turned upside down when an escaped prisoner from the nearby prison holds them hostage.

This book is for readers that love character driven stories. Early on, it becomes evident that Annie and Rew are extremely resilient kids forced to grow up and take care of themselves as their grandma becomes less and less stable and reliable.  Throw in heavy family issues and a surprise they never saw coming, it is no wonder they turned to literature (specifically Treasure Island) as a means of comfort and escape.  Obviously, as a librarian, I loved this connection to the power of reading and storytelling.

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

 

SUTTER KEELY. He’s the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually.

Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper. But Aimee’s not like other girls, and before long he’s in way over his head. For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life—or ruin it forever.

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I know a female version of Sutter; the charming social butterfly and life of the party. Fun at first, but soon it gets sad and embarrassing to be around. Referring to himself as ‘God’s own drunk’, Sutter lives in the ‘spectacular now’ and refuses to plan for the future.  In this character driven story, the totally flawed narrator, Sutter is constantly drinking booze at home, school, work, and in the car with his giant 7up and whiskey cup. His alcohol addiction is apparent, but he lives in complete denial. While I’m happy Sutter meets Aimee and slowly helps her gain confidence to stand up to others, I hated seeing her pick up some of his lushness in the process.

Although it was true to Sutter’s character, the ending saddened me.  It was a realistic conclusion that reminds readers that real life is messy, and happy endings aren’t in the cards for everyone. I have to wonder how Sutter’s ‘spectacular now’ concept is still holding up for him…

Look for the film adaptation of The Spectacular Now in theatres August 2013.

 

 

 

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