The Beginning of Everything

Happy Independence Day to all of my American friends out there–and happy Saturday to everyone else. As fireworks are blasting all around me, I figured now was a good time to bring you my latest read. I’m not a huge fan of loud noises, so this is helping me to focus on something other than the idea that my neighbors have spent what seems like thousands of dollars in pyrotechnics. Thanks for that.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. This book, which is nominated for the 15-16 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, is sure to be a hit with readers who love John Green, Gayle Forman, Jennifer E. Smith, and other wonderful authors of contemporary YA fiction.

“Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them…That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary–a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.”

Ezra Faulkner was once the envy of nearly everyone around him. He had the beautiful girlfriend, he was a tennis star, and he was one of the most popular guys in the junior class. All of that changed, though, on one fateful night. One night–and one tragic car accident–that shattered his leg, his tennis career, and everything he thought he knew about himself.

After a grueling summer of surgeries, rehab, and physical therapy, Ezra is returning to school for his senior year. He knows that this year will be different, but he’s not quite prepared for just how different. He’s no longer the school’s golden boy. His former girlfriend has moved on–to the new captain of the tennis team. Some of his supposed friends act like nothing has changed, but Ezra knows that they can’t simply go back to the way things once were. Too much has happened in the past few months.

Now, Ezra is trading the tennis team for the debate team. It is here that he reconnects with Tobey, one of his best childhood friends, and he also meets a few new friends who are much more interesting than his former self would have believed. Ezra also meets Cassidy Thorpe, the enigmatic new girl who sparks his interest and forces him to think about the new direction his life has taken.

Ezra is completely taken in by Cassidy. He feels more for her than he ever did for his former girlfriend, he enjoys being with her, and he appreciates that she makes him think. But Ezra knows that Cassidy is holding something back. She won’t talk about why she’s transferred to his school or no longer competes in debate. She never invites Ezra to her house or introduces him to her family. Why? What exactly is this mysterious girl hiding? Why is she doing her best to drive Ezra away when he thought they were closer than ever?

When Ezra finally realizes what Cassidy has been hiding, the air is knocked out of him. The truth is almost too much for him–and Cassidy–to handle, and this new tragedy, much like the car accident that altered the course of his life, has the power to change everything.

_______________

While I found The Beginning of Everything to be a tad predictable, I did enjoy it. I loved the character of Tobey, who I imagined as kind of a teenage version of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. I also liked how Ezra’s character developed throughout the book. Sure, there were times when I wanted to smack him for being wishy-washy, but he did come to realize that he had more to him than tennis and superficial popularity.

I’m hoping that readers will do further research on the the literary and philosophical allusions in this book. There were many references to the PanopticonThe Great Gatsby, Foucault, and other works and ideas that make The Beginning of Everything a much richer read because of their presence.

If I have one big complaint about this book, it was the way it concluded. I wasn’t crazy about the abrupt ending. It almost felt like there were a couple of chapters missing. I went from reading about Christmas of Ezra’s senior year to his first year of college in a matter of minutes. It was a little jarring. I get that the major events of the book had already happened, but a little more stuff would have given me a greater sense of closure that what I ended up with.

If you think The Beginning of Everything sounds like your kind of book, you can learn more on the author’s website. You can also connect with author Robyn Schneider on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

Wonderstruck

After reading the wonder that is The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I knew I had to read the latest work of art by Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck.  I finally got around to it this week (at the urging of some of my students), and I was immediately captivated by this amazing story.  Although the book is over 600 pages long, it took me less than two days to read it.  (Of course, it helps that over half of the pages were pictures.)  Wonderstruck brings together two seemingly independent stories–one told in words and the other in illustrations–that take readers on an emotional journey that will leave them…well…wonderstruck!

Ben, a boy living in Minnesota in the 1970s, and Rose, a girl living in New Jersey in the 1920s, are searching for the same thing–a place to belong. Both of them long for the parents that seem (and often really are) out of their reach. As both young people go on a quest to find their places in the world, their stories intertwine, and both of them end up in a museum at the heart of New York City. What connection does this museum have to Ben and Rose? And can it help them to find the sense of belonging that they’ve always wanted? Read Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick and join Ben and Rose as they discover the truth about their pasts and the connections that will lead them into the future.

Wonderstruck is an absolutely beautiful story that will resonate with readers from ages 10 to 100.  The symmetry with which Brian Selznick wove the two seemingly independent tales of Ben and Rose is truly remarkable, and the similarities between the characters will appeal to many, as will the connections that bridges the gap between the fifty years that separate them.  

The pencil drawings in Wonderstruck, like all of the illustrations I’ve seen by Brian Selznick, are gorgeous.  It’s amazing to me–an admitted non-artist–how someone can convey a character’s emotions simply by drawing their eyes.  No words were needed.  I knew exactly what the character was feeling, and I experienced those emotions as well.  Brian Selznick proves that his pictures truly are worth a thousand words.

If you’re looking for your next great read, I highly recommend Wonderstruck.  You won’t be disappointed.

For more information on Wonderstruck and author Brian Selznick, visit http://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/.

Going Bovine

What can I say about Going Bovine by Libba Bray?  It’s weird.  (That’s a good thing in my world.)  I can see why it won the Printz medal for young adult literature.  It’s an awesome book.  The best description of the events of this tale occur on page 257 of the book:

“As a kid, I imagined lots of different scenarios for my life.  I would be an astronaut.  Maybe a cartoonist.  A famous explorer or rock star.  Never once did I see myself standing under the window of a house belonging to some druggie named Carbine, waiting for his yard gnome to steal his stash so I could get a cab back to a cheap motel where my friend, a neurotic, death-obsessed dwarf, was waiting for me so we could get on the road to an undefined place and a mysterious Dr. X, who would cure me of mad cow disease and stop a band of dark energy from destroying the universe.”

Yep, that’s Going Bovine in a nutshell.  This book has it all:  New Orleans jazz, Norse gods disguised as yard gnomes, self-obsessed teenagers, a cult with headquarters in a bowling alley, fire giants, goth angels, DisneyWorld, weird physicists (and I do adore some weird physicists), and many, many other things that seem random to readers…and turn out to be a bit random to the book’s main character Cameron, too.

Everything about this book is great.  Even the acknowledgments and the chapter titles were hilarious.  And, although the story is a little crazy (or a lot crazy) at times, readers will root for Cameron and his friends even when they have no idea what is going on.  Definitely a winner!

Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities

Donald R. Gallo’s latest anthology, Owning It, contains ten stories about teens with disabilities.  The authors are among the best in young adult literature:  David Lubar, Chris Crutcher, Gail Giles, Alex Flinn, Ron Koertge, Robert Lipsyte, and several others.  This collection provides some students with characters they can relate to while showing others that a little compassion can go a long way.

This collection of stories deals with a wide range of challenges.  I use the word “challenges” because I don’t want to use the world “disability” for some of the scenarios.  For instance, one of the stories deals with an obese teen.  While there are challenges that come with being obese (and I know about all of them, because I’ve been the “fat kid” for as long as I can remember), I don’t see being overweight as a disability.  The stories in this anthology deal with alcoholism, Tourette’s syndrome, severe migraines, attention deficit disorder, asthma, being bound to a wheelchair, blindness, brain injuries, cancer, and, yes, obesity.  While I may not agree with the editor on what exactly constitutes a disability, I do agree that there are things readers can learn about dealing with each of the challenges presented in the stories.

Owning It is a good book and a very fast read.  I plan to market it to the special education department at my school.  I would also like to encourage new teachers and students who work with the special ed. classes to read this.  It may provide them with some insights regarding the students they are working with.