Severed Heads, Broken Hearts: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn SchneiderThe Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Published: August 27th 2013 by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Source: ARC from publisher

Synopsis (Goodreads): 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?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

My thoughts: This is the kind of book I would have loved in high school.

(I actually started writing this novel (or one with a ridiculous similar storyline) in high school, but before I finished my sister deleted it off the laptop after I said terribly mean things to her. True story).

And it’s very good for what it is (much better than the story I wrote!) The Beginning of Everything is a coming-of-age story of a privileged teenaged boy. Said boy experiences a tragedy, meets a manic pixie dream girl, falls in love, grows as a person, gets a leather jacket, feels less sorry for himself, has his heart broken, loses his dog, and discovers a tragically ironic set of circumstances that doom his first real relationship, thus realizing the girl wasn’t the only reason he changed.

Schneider even manages to get the world of debate mostly right, if a bit simplified (though I never actually had crazy parties in hotel rooms—the worst we’d do was sneak cigarettes and stay up all night cutting cards). I only wish this subplot would have meant more to the overall storyline. It’s so important to the first half of the novel, and really critical to the way Ezra and Cassidy get to know each other. These scenes were fun and unique and a different aspect of high school than we typically see. Which is why I would have liked to see the big emotional scenes use debate as a backdrop, instead of more predictable YA fare, like you know, dances.

The pop culture references and overall nerdiness of Ezra’s “new” friends were spot on, even if the cleverness did get old and often seemed feigned. I really enjoyed a lot of the details of the novel, to a certain extent, and then they became too cutesy. It’s amazingly current, with references to things like the 8-bit Great Gatsby game (yes, the Gatsby references go that far) and music like Vampire Weekend, and I wonder if these bits of pop culture will be iconic or dated in a few years.

This novel is like a glossy, magazine spread with a smartly written article about the real trials and tribulations of high school and finding yourself. It’s what we think a story of a boy having a life-changing year should be like. The characters, the author, the book itself, all seem painfully self-aware. The twist at the end was glaringly obvious.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, and not every reader will find it as glib as I did. I didn’t read this book at the right time for me, and liking a novel is so much about timing. Perhaps if the title had remained Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, that alone could have made a big difference. Because how fantastic is that title?! Those cowards for not sticking with it. I can’t think of anything more bland than The Beginning of Everything (though I do like the roller coaster art on the updated cover).

My biggest problem is with the portrayal of the “cool” kids as one-dimensional assholes who only care about popularity. None of Ezra’s former friends, and particularly his ex-girlfriends, are ever given a chance to be sympathetic. They are set up to be vapid and self-absorbed, with not underlying motivation or further character development. It felt cheap and easy. While it’s quite possible there are lots of teenagers like that, in my experience, underneath their veneer of popularity they are almost always as complex and insecure as any Doctor Who fan.

I still think this is a great book for the right reader, and already know several teens who will likely love it. It’s got great male voice and genuine nerd appeal. It will be a great fit for John Green fans. I recommend it, with a few reservations. It was one of my most anticipated debuts of the year, and ended up falling kind of flat for mer personally, though I do see the appeal.

Second opinions:

The Flyleaf Review: “It is definitely a coming of age/voyage of self discovery read. It’s authentic and emotional and poignant. It’s funny and endearing and loaded with lots of feel good moments you’ll remember. But it’s sophisticated and literary at the same time.”

Jenna Does Books: “While a very thoughtful and gorgeously written read, I did find a few faults with THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING. One of which is the “good” versus “evil” status that exists between the social groups in Ezra’s high school blah…Oh, and overused hipster dialogue that contributes nothing to the novel? Double blah

Cuddlebuggery: “Despite this, The Beginning of Everything is a thoughtful, observant and hilarious book that just might be worth enduring paper cuts to the face for.”

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3 thoughts on “Severed Heads, Broken Hearts: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

  1. Molly, I love your reviews! I feel like if I can’t decide whether to read a book, I can just see what you have to say about it and that makes up my mind. You are very powerful.

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