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Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a witty and heart-wrenching teen novel that will appeal to fans of books by John Green and Ned Vizzini, novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and classics like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.
Varsity tennis captain, Ezra Faulkner, was supposed to be homecoming king, but that was before—before his girlfriend cheated on him, before a car accident shattered his leg, and before he fell in love with unpredictable new girl Cassidy Thorpe.
As Kirkus Reviews said in a starred review, “Schneider takes familiar stereotypes and infuses them with plenty of depth. Here are teens who could easily trade barbs and double entendres with the characters that fill John Green’s novels.”
Funny, smart, and including everything from flash mobs to blanket forts to a poodle who just might be the reincarnation of Jay Gatsby, The Beginning of Everything is a refreshing contemporary twist on the classic coming-of-age novel—a heart-wrenching story about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.
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An Excerpt from The Beginning of Everything
SOMETIMES I THINK that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that the people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster. 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.
My friend Toby came down with a bad case of tragedy the week before we started seventh grade at Westlake Middle School. We were fanatical about Ping-Pong that summer, playing it barefoot in his backyard with aspirations toward some sort of world championship. I was the better player, because my parents had forced me into private tennis lessons ever since I’d been given my own fork at the dinner table. But sometimes, out of a sense of friendship, I let Toby win. It was a game for me, figuring out how to lose just convincingly enough that he wouldn’t figure I was doing it on purpose. And so, while he practiced for the mythical Ping-Pong world championship, I practiced a quiet, well-meaning type of anarchy toward my father’s conviction that winning was what mattered in life.
Even though Toby and I were the kind of best friends who rarely sought the company of other boys our age, his mother insisted on a birthday party, perhaps to insure his popularity in middle school—a popularity we had not enjoyed in elementary school.
She sent out Pirates of the Caribbean–themed invitations to a half dozen kids in our year with whom Toby and I shared a collective disinterest in socializing, and she took us all to Disneyland in the world’s filthiest burgundy minivan the last Tuesday of the summer.
We lived only twenty minutes’ drive south of Disneyland, and the magic of the place was well worn off by the end of sixth grade. We knew exactly which rides were good, and which were a waste of time. When Mrs. Ellicott suggested a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room, the idea was met with such collective derision that you would have thought she’d told us to get lunch from the Pizza Port salad bar. In the end, the first—and only—ride we went on was the Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Toby and I chose the back row of the roller coaster, which everyone knows is the fastest. The rest of the birthday party was fighting for the front row, because, even though the back is the fastest, the front is inexplicably more popular. And so Toby and I wound up divided from the rest of the party by a sea of eager Disneyland guests.
I suppose I remember that day with such enormous clarity because of what happened. Do you know those signs they have in the lines at theme parks, with those thick black lines where you have to be at least that tall to ride? Those signs also have a lot of stupid warnings, about how pregnant ladies or people with heart conditions shouldn’t go on roller coasters, and you have to stow your backpacks, and everyone must stay seated at all times.
Well, it turns out those signs aren’t so useless after all. There was this family directly in front of us, Japanese tourists with Mickey Mouse hats that had their names embroidered on the backs. As Toby and I sat there with the wind in our faces and the roller coaster rumbling so loudly over the rickety tracks that you could barely hear yourself scream, one of the boys in front of us stood up defiantly in his seat. He was laughing, and holding the Mickey Mouse hat onto his head, when the coaster raced into a low-ceilinged tunnel.
The news reports said that a fourteen-year-old boy from Japan was decapitated on the Thunder Mountain Railroad when he disregarded the posted safety warnings. What the news reports didn’t say was how the kid’s head sailed backward in its mouse-ear hat like some sort of grotesque helicopter, and how Toby Ellicott, on his twelfth birthday, caught the severed head and held on to it in shock for the duration of the ride.