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?
Tell Me More: There are some books for which you know exactly what’s going to happen, the secrets which will be revealed, the main overarching journey that the protagonist takes, and you love that book anyway. The Beginning of Everything was not that book. It dances on the edge of being something breathtaking without actually jumping off and losing its breath, and does so in favour of a rushed and unsatisfying ending.
Ezra is not a difficult character to decipher: he slides in perfectly with the typical hero of this subgenre, and you could recognize him in a heartbeat. He’s used to life falling into place just so, without complications or complexities. The novel’s first chapter hints at the supposed development of his personality with careful, poignant writing, and it was precisely those first few paragraphs that sold me on the book when the premise had not. That said, I didn’t feel that his character development was explored as deeply as it could have been, and I didn’t get the sense that he had truly matured. In fact, the experience was quite similar to how I’d felt at the end of (500) Days of Summer. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but Tom Hansen and Ezra share quite a few traits. They’re not horrible people, but they are very self-centered in the most basic sense of the term. Unlike Tom, Ezra takes on more responsibility for his choices and his perspective of the world by the end of the novel. And that’s great, but the development is crammed into the last 20 pages of the book, as though the reader is just expected to take his word for it without seeing proof.
Cassidy Thorpe, on the other hand–I was never quite sure what Schneider had intended for her character. We get a portrait of a girl painted in very broad strokes, with the occasional quirk to make her relatable to the reader. She enchants a cynical and tired Ezra almost effortlessly, though I enjoyed the banter between her and Toby more. But she’s selfish, in a way that the titular Summer Finn never was (Tom Hansen’s bitter viewpoint nonwithstanding). She was unsettling to me, because I could sense there was something off about her from the beginning. At first, my fear had been that she would turn out to be another manic pixie dream girl, but as the book went on, it became clear that she was faking that too. And again, that’s fine and I applaud Schneider for steering away from that trope. But there is very little time to digest that revelation before the book has ended and the reader is faced with questions they didn’t think (they had) to ask. The big plot twist was obvious from the start, and it didn’t have the impact it probably should have had because there wasn’t enough time spent on building it up/making the reader care about it in the first place. Instead, the reader is caught up in the relationship between Ezra and Cassidy, which only adds to the dissatisfaction when things don’t exactly work out the way you think they will.
The plot is heavily centered around the mental and emotional journey that Ezra embarks on, so it isn’t heavy on the worldbuilding. I highly enjoyed the scenes during the debate tournament because they felt the most real, even when Ezra didn’t know what was going on. And oh, I could sing praises about Toby for nights on end–he practically leapt off the page, his energy and enthusiasm so palpable that they were almost contagious. But though parts of the novel were very well-drawn and substantiated, the fact remains that this is Ezra’s story, and it never achieved the closure it should have.
The Final Say: Though the original title–Severed Heads, Broken Hearts–would have been an eye-catcher, I do think that the current title of this story fits it perfectly. The Beginning of Everything is full of false and fresh starts, but you may want to avoid it if you want a novel that pushes itself to the limit and past.
Robyn Schneider is a writer, actor, and online personality who misspent her youth in a town coincidentally similar to Eastwood. Robyn is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied creative writing, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where she studied medical ethics. She is also the author of the middle grade Knightley Academy books, written as Violet Haberdasher. She lives in Los Angeles, California, but also on the internet.