Review and Giveaway: Why We Came To The City by Kristopher Jansma

Why We Came To The City Book Cover Why We Came To The City
Kristopher Jansma

A warm, funny, and heartfelt novel about a tight-knit group of twentysomethings in New York whose lives are upended by tragedy—from the widely acclaimed author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

December, 2008. A heavy snowstorm is blowing through Manhattan and the economy is on the brink of collapse, but none of that matters to a handful of guests at a posh holiday party. Five years after their college graduation, the fiercely devoted friends at the heart of this richly absorbing novel remain as inseparable as ever: editor and social butterfly Sara Sherman, her troubled astronomer boyfriend George Murphy, loudmouth poet Jacob Blaumann, classics major turned investment banker William Cho, and Irene Richmond, an enchanting artist with an inscrutable past.

Amid cheerful revelry and free-flowing champagne, the friends toast themselves and the new year ahead—a year that holds many surprises in store. They must navigate ever-shifting relationships with the city and with one another, determined to push onward in pursuit of their precarious dreams. And when a devastating blow brings their momentum to a halt, the group is forced to reexamine their aspirations and chart new paths through unexpected losses.

Kristopher Jansma’s award-winning debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, was praised for its  “wry humor” and “charmingly unreliable narrator” in The New Yorker and hailed as “F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Wes Anderson” by The Village Voice. In Why We Came to the City, Jansma offers an unforgettable exploration of friendships forged in the fires of ambition, passion, hope, and love. This glittering story of a generation coming of age is a sweeping, poignant triumph.

Review

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

During the first few chapters of Why We Came To The City, I feared this book and I weren’t going to be a good match. The sweeping, grandiose prose was too contrived, the characters too unrelatable. As I read on, however, I discovered there were two levels to this story. The lofty, contemplative level of philosophy and grandiloquence, the level at which the book started, didn’t do anything for me. The intimate level of emotions and personal insights, on the other hand, was spot-on, moving, and changed my perspective about the book.

Jansma’s novel opens with a wide view, introducing the reader to the five main characters as they hobnob at an art show. They’re positioned as five variations on the “Aspiring Young Professionals in NYC” theme, up-and-coming 20-somethings with starry eyes and big dreams. For the first few chapters, I despaired of connecting with any of them. They were so pretentious with their big-city affectations and tweed jackets, arguing the superiority of various translations of The Iliad and debating the meaning of Art, with a capital “A.” They seemed like two-dimensional representations instead of real people; they were the Free-Spirited Artist, the Go-Getter Newspaper Editor, the Gay Poet, etc., when what I really wanted were unique individuals with their own traits and fears and experiences.

A few chapters in, I got the character development I was after. One of the protagonists was diagnosed with cancer. The lens narrowed, the focus became personal, and Why We Came To The City hit its stride. The characters stopped being two-dimensional caricatures and simply became five people who were hurting and trying to figure out how to deal with that hurt in in their own personal way.

Through tiny, precise details, Jansma peeled back the layers of his characters like the layers of an onion. There was wise-cracking Jacob, trying to mask his fear with sarcasm and sass, and take-charge, hyper-organized Sarah, who tried to control the situation with medication charts and precisely timed visitation schedules. There was George, whose fraying nerves could only be soothed by a drink or 10, and William, who questioned whether he was somehow to blame for his girlfriend’s illness.

“In those dark hours with his eyes shut, he had been counting disappointments on a hundred imaginary fingers. Not things that he was disappointed by but disappointments of his own making. Things like having made more money than he deserved, doing mergers for companies with questionable ethics, being a terrible son – anything he felt the universe might be punishing him for by making the woman that he loved so sick.”

As a rule, I generally avoid “cancer books.” In fact, if I’d known that’s what I was getting in Why We Came To The City, I probably wouldn’t have requested a review copy. However, Jansma’s book isn’t really about the disease, it’s about coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t pull its punches, no matter who you are or what you think you deserve. The five friends in this novel start out on top of the world, expectant and ready for the best life has to offer. When life dishes up tragedy instead, they must figure out how to regroup and keep moving forward.

“For she was special, and had always believed it. She was more punctual, and she was better prepared. […] Always recycling and never littering. Better behaved and never hypocritical. Harder working at the office, tipping more generously, and possessing of a thousand pardons. And yet she couldn’t save Irene just by trying hardest or being best. Because no one was immune to tragedy. No matter how respectfully Sara lived, death could not respect her in return. She, Irene, all of them were susceptible to collapse, regardless of preparations or punctuality or propriety. None of them were special.”

As I’ve already mentioned, Jansma’s attention to detail and ability to paint an intimate picture of the characters’ experiences are what really won me over to Why We Came To The City. At times, Jansma would move away from this personal focus, broadening the book’s gaze to a more abstract, contemplative view. During these sections I would find myself losing interest and feeling the distance growing between the characters and myself.

Eventually, the lens would narrow again and there would be a poignant, penetrating line that socked me in the chest and actually brought tears to my eyes. There would be a moment when one of the friends would try his hardest to give up a vice, to make a deal with God that if he could just be good enough his friend would recover. Or another moment when another friend would look back at their collective lives and wonder how they’d become the people they currently were:

“Now it seemed undeniable to him that, whereas his New York family had indeed been happy in the way that all groups of young dreamers are happy before they’ve given up, they were all quite unhappy now, each in their own special ways. That was what made it all the more miserable: they couldn’t even be unhappy together.”

It’s these small but important insights that Jansma does exceptionally well. They resonated with me and affected me deeply. [START SPOILER] When Jacob revealed his last words to Irene, I had to put the book down and walk away until I’d calmed down enough to read again. [END SPOILER] They’re also what taught me the lesson of this book: Life may not care about our dreams, but that doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming. As Jacob aptly points out:

“You’ve got to entrust yourself to the waves, lash yourself to the mast, pray the gods are on your side, and rely on cunning to survive the rest. The seas are full of forgotten monsters, yes, but they’re full of forgotten glories too. And the people who stay home and sit out the war never get to see them.”

Giveaway

Viking/Penguin has graciously offered to host a giveaway of Why We Came To The City! This is a U.S.-only giveaway, and it ends at midnight on May 12, 2016. To enter for a chance to win, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

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Review: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My Best Everything Book Cover My Best Everything
Sarah Tomp

You say it was all meant to be. You and me. The way we met. Our secrets in the woods. Even the way it all exploded. It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it one more time, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so uncertain. But I’m going back to the beginning on my own. To see what happened and why.

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

The summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating. My Best Everything is Lulu’s letter to Mason – though is it an apology, a good-bye, or a love letter?

Review:

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

Lulu wants nothing more than to ditch her dead-end hometown in Virginia and escape to a new life at the University of San Diego. She’s just a few months away from making these dreams a reality when her dad drops a bomb: the family doesn’t have money for tuition, and Lulu will have to defer her college plans for at least another semester. Unwilling to delay and get stuck at home for good, Lulu turns to a wild scheme to earn huge amounts of cash in the short time before school starts: making moonshine.

Lulu has the drive to be a moonshiner, but what she lacks is the know-how. To remedy this, she enlists the help of Mason Malone, a former ’shiner with a questionable reputation. As the two work together and money starts to roll in, their relationship evolves from business partners to something more. Moonshining is a perilous venture, though, and it’s not long before it begins to take a toll on Lulu, Mason, and their friends in ways Lulu never expected. Soon Lulu is faced with a choice: how much will she risk to save her future?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide exactly how I feel about My Best Everything. There were parts I absolutely loved and parts that I absolutely hated, which made for a confusing reading experience. What it comes down to, though, is that a week after I finished the book, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Despite all the frustrating parts, I was deeply impressed with Tomp’s portrayal of alcoholism, selfishness, and how people can love each other but not necessarily be good for each other.

What I Liked:

Mason: Mason’s got a troubled past, and not in a sexy bad-boy kind of way. He’s had some serious problems, the kind that could have ended up with him either dead or in jail. Sarah Tomp does a great job of portraying Mason’s struggles, regrets, memories (or lack thereof), and temptations. She makes Mason’s hardships real, and my heart went out to him as he fought to turn his life around, a fight that was made increasingly difficult as Lulu’s scheme dragged him back into the world from which he’d tried to break free.

The suspense: My Best Everything is written as a letter from Lulu to Mason and recounts the events of their summer from her perspective. At the beginning, the circumstances in which the letter is being written are unknown to the reader. Is the letter an explanation? An apology? What happened between Mason and Lulu to make her feel the need to tell him her side of the story? Where is Mason, since Lulu keeps saying things like, “Maybe if you were here…”? All of the questions build anticipation and make you want to keep reading until you find answers.

Because Lulu is relating the story with the benefit of hindsight, she seasons her letter with sentences like, “I heard you. Honest. I’m not sure why it was hard to remember later,” “I was in way over my head. And you were getting pulled under,” and “I also figured that if you – a high school drop-out and ex-waster extraordinaire – knew what to do, I could figure it out, too. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” This foreshadowing feels very dire, warning of things to come that Lulu and Mason have already been through but that the reader can only guess at. It provided great suspense, and I couldn’t wait to find out where the story would lead.

The fascinating world of moonshine: I never knew how interesting the process of making moonshine could be! My Best Everything is chock-full of details about ’shine, and I found myself enthralled by every last one of them. There was so much to learn, from safety precautions – apparently you need to caulk the joints of a still to keep flammable vapors from exploding – to methods for checking the proof of the alcohol once it’s done fermenting. I learned about moonshiner superstitions, that it’s a good idea to dig a pit for a still’s fuel tank to make it less conspicuous, and that harmful methanol needs to be separated out from the moonshine to make it drinkable rather than poisonous. It’s a riveting world!

What I Didn’t Like:

Lulu: If I loved Mason, then I loathe Lulu. In fact, I’d say she’s one of my least favorite narrators, ever. She struck me as an entitled, self-absorbed brat who threw away her principles as soon as things got tough. Ok, so you don’t want to defer college for a semester – that sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to pout and act like the universe owes you something. And you definitely don’t need to turn to a life of crime and put the futures and wellbeing of the people you care about in jeopardy.

“I was too miserable to see beyond my own reflection in the window.”

Lulu treats Mason more like a means to an end more than like an actual person, which infuriated me. She falls for him, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s taking advantage of Mason and using him to get what she wants. As she admits at one point in the letter, “To get out of town, I had to drag you through the muck.” Nice, Lulu. Real nice.

The limitations of the perspective: Although the format of My Best Everything provides great suspense, it has its limitations. Because the book is written to Mason and recounts events he’s already lived through, there’s a lot of summarization and not as many specific details as there’d be if the novel were written from a different perspective. There is also less insight into Mason as a character than I would have liked. In a way, the narration acts like one of those stand-up screens that can be used as a room divider; through it, you can see general outlines, but not distinct features.

The ending: The conclusion of this book enraged me. Of all the ways My Best Everything COULD have ended, the way it DID end seemed the least apropos. It was rushed, implausible, and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. Also, some parts seemed far too convenient and easily wrapped up. For example:

[START SPOILER]

After Lulu sacrifices her tuition money to get Mason out of Dale, there are a couple of lines hastily thrown in about how Lulu’s priest happens to hear she needs money and is magically able to get her a scholarship just in the nick of time so she can go to college after all. WHAT?! If it was that easy, then what was the point of this book, which was 100% driven by Lulu’s inability to get money for school?!?! ARRGH!!!

[END SPOILER]

Bottom line, there are parts of My Best Everything that are infuriating, but the parts that are great more than make up for them. It’s a fascinating book and one that’s sure to leave you thinking about it long after it’s over.

YA Wednesdays Book Blitz: Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny

Book blitz banner for Kissing Frogs by April Sevigny

Welcome to this week’s Swoon Romance YA Wednesday! This week features Kissing Frogs by April Sevigny. Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

About Kissing Frogs

Book cover for Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny

Popular party girl and high school senior Jessica Scott has a secret: she used to be a nerd — a big one; a goody two-shoes, grade-skipping, all-state spelling bee champ. But she lost the braces, put on some contacts, and applied all her academic genius to studying and imitating the social elite. Now she rules the school from the upper echelon of the high school realm. With her cool new friends and hottest-guy-in-school boyfriend, life’s a beach — and that’s where she’s headed for Spring Break. That is, until her teacher breaks the bad news that she’s failing Biology — and her only chance to make up the grade is to throw away the culminating trip of her hard-earned popularity and join the Conservation Club in Panama to save the Golden Frog.

Unable to let go of her faded college dreams, Jess finds herself in a foreign country with a new social crew, and one handsome face that stands out as a blast from the past, threatening to ruin her queen bee reputation. Travis Henley may have grown up, but he still likes to play childish games and as payment for retrieving Jess’ lost ring from the bottom of a jungle pool, he wants three dates. While Jess does battle with spiders, snakes, wildfires and smart mean girls, she desperately tries to hang on to the last vestiges of her popular existence like the Golden Frog from its webbed toe. But as she starts to care about something more than tanning and texting – a species on the verge of disappearing forever – she may realize the worth of her inner nerd, and the one frog in particular that could be her prince in disguise.

Set in the lush and tropical El Valle de Anton, this modern fairytale re-imagining of “The Frog Prince” is toe-curling contemporary romance with an environmentalist heartbeat, in the tradition of Stephanie Perkins.

Review

Four-star rating
A free copy of this book was provided by Month9Books and Swoon Romance in exchange for an honest review.

Kissing Frogs is like a pina colada on a hot summer day – light, fun, and refreshing. It’s the story of Jess Scott, a nerd-turned-member-of-the-high-school-elite who finds herself sentenced to a Spring Break field trip saving frogs in a foreign country. While all of her friends are getting drunk and tan on a beach in Florida, Jess is spending her time cleaning out aquariums, taking nature walks, and writing a research paper in Panama.

If you’re thinking that a trip to sunny Panama doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a school break, you’re right. In between learning about the endangered species the Conservation Club has been sent to help, Jess and the rest of the kids get to hit the beach, go horseback riding, shop at local markets, and more. It’s actually a pretty cool “punishment,” and it’s not long before Jess begins to realize that the opportunity is one she should take advantage of.

This is one of the great things about Kissing Frogs – the protagonist is smart enough to know a good thing when she sees it. Although she’s upset about missing out on a vacation with her friends, is wary of touching frogs, and initially doesn’t recognize the importance of conversation, Jess tries to make the best of her situation. She’s a smart girl and an overall good person. It’s a nice change from the books where popular characters are either stuck-up, ditzy, or bitchy.

There are a few ways in which Jess is a little cliché – she’s got dyed platinum blond hair, lets her popular boyfriend walk all over her, and is addicted to her phone and makeup – but these things are pretty minor compared to her good qualities. Jess has a great sense of humor, makes an effort to make friends on her trip, and embraces the chance to learn new things.

It’s great watching Jess’ transformation throughout the book. As I already stated, she isn’t a bad person at the beginning of the novel, just a person with a limited view. The trip broadens her awareness of the world and wakes her up to a host of environmental issues. It was so pleasing to see her ditch her apathy and begin to take an active role in making the world a better place.

The conservation theme really differentiates Kissing Frogs from all the other cute, bubbly romances out there. I have to give Alisha Sevigny credit for raising awareness about the plight of endangered species in general and Panama’s Golden Frog in particular. She made me care about the animals and want to make a difference without ever making me feel pressured or guilty.

So far I haven’t mentioned much about the romance in this book. As the synopsis mentions, the love story is loosely based on the fairy tale The Frog Prince, and it’s everything I could have hoped for: sweet, natural, and lighthearted, with little to no drama. Some parts are fairly predictable – for example, there are a couple of occasions when Jess trips and literally falls into Travis’s arms – but the book is so adorable and fun that the predictable parts don’t really matter.

If you’re already planning your summer vacation and are looking for a book to take along to the beach, you can’t go wrong with Kissing Frogs. You’ll smile, you’ll laugh, and you’ll certainly want to save some endangered species.

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About Alisha Sevigny

Author photo for April SevignyAlisha Sevigny holds a degree in Sociology and Professional Writing from the University of Victoria, is a film school graduate, former literary agent and current Social Media and Communications Director for an award-winning English school. A shameless romantic, Alisha and her husband have travelled the world together. On a recent trip to Panama with their new daughter, Alisha fell in love with the country, culture, and their national emblem, the Golden Frog. She was inspired to write her first Young Adult novel, Kissing Frogs. Born and raised in Kitimat, British Columbia, Alisha has always had a strong connection to the environment and conservationist spirit. She now lives in Toronto with her family.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Giveaway

Swoon Romance is sponsoring a great giveaway: one reader will win two previously published Swoon Romance e-books of their choice! To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter below. The contest is open internationally. A winner will be selected on April 8, 2015.

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Review: 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

100 Sideways Miles Book Cover 100 Sideways Miles
Andrew Smith

Finn Easton sees the world through miles instead of minutes. It’s how he makes sense of the world, and how he tries to convince himself that he’s a real boy and not just a character in his father’s bestselling cult-classic book. Finn has two things going for him: his best friend, the possibly-insane-but-definitely-excellent Cade Hernandez, and Julia Bishop, the first girl he’s ever loved.

Then Julia moves away, and Finn is heartbroken. Feeling restless and trapped in the book, Finn embarks on a road trip with Cade to visit their college of choice in Oklahoma. When an unexpected accident happens and the boys become unlikely heroes, they take an eye-opening detour away from everything they thought they had planned—and learn how to write their own destiny.

Review:

Phew…my head is spinning right now. I’m not really sure what to think of this book. On the one hand, 100 Sideways Miles features great characters who are entertaining and hilarious. On the other hand, it is also random and – as much as I hate to say it – kind of pointless.

In a way, 100 Sideways Miles reminds me a bit of The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand. In addition to not having any discernible message or point, both books follow a male protagonist who feels as if he’s trapped, stuck on a path he can’t get off of no matter how much he tries. In the case of 100 Sideways Miles, this protagonist is Finn Easton, an epileptic boy with a tragic childhood and an author father whose wildly popular sci-fi novel features a character based on his son.

Finn is a little peculiar. He measures life in distance, not time – something to do with the speed the Earth travels – and gets pretty philosophical about things like atoms and stars and molecules. He hates that his father’s book has made parts of his life public and feels he can’t live his own life, be his own person, etc., etc. I didn’t have a lot of patience for this. Apart from “borrowing” parts of Finn for his novel, Finn’s dad does not in any way pressure Finn to be a certain type of person or live his life a certain way. It made no sense to me why Finn feels so trapped or why the sci-fi book causes him to go through a mini existential crisis.

Then again, there’s not a whole lot in this book that does make sense. It’s a bizarre hodgepodge of random tidbits that don’t really have a point but are nonetheless a lot of fun. There’s Finn’s wacky school, which has an all-boys German Dance Club and a history teacher who frequently comes to class costumed as Betsy Ross, Charles Lindberg, a Nazi, etc. There’s Laika, Finn’s rat terrier, who likes to roll around on the carcasses of dead animals. There are jaunts to an abandoned penitentiary, road trips to Oklahoma, random ghost appearances, and dead horses that fall out of the sky. There’s a lot of cursing and vomiting and talk about erections. The whole book is just weird and funny and completely out of left field.

It’s also entertaining, due primarily to Cade Hernandez, Finn’s best friend. Cade is one of the most memorable – and outlandish – characters I’ve ever come across. He’s gross and hilarious and annoying and spectacular all at once. He’s got a knack for stirring up trouble, an astonishing ability to get people to do whatever he wants, and is capable of convincing the entire student body to participate in wild schemes. He’s popular, intelligent, insane, courageous, and strange, and I absolutely loved him. Here are a couple of quotes about Cade:

“Cade Hernandez was the kind of kid you’d dedicate hundred-foot-high monuments to, just so he wouldn’t kill you with his lethal powers of annoyance.”

And:

“Cade smiled and kept his unblinking eyes focused on our teacher. It was a look that was particular to Cade Hernandez – a seducer’s look. It was magical and unavoidable and caused women to willingly enslave themselves to him. And I’ll admit it – sometimes when Cade Hernandez looked at me with that particular expression, I’d get flustered and embarrassed and have to turn away in frustration and sexual doubt.”

The boy has no shame; he frequently announces his masturbatory habits to the world, asks questions about boners in class, and gets Finn into all kinds of trouble. And yet you can’t help but love him. He’s all himself, all the time, and he’s my favorite part of this book.

Watching Cade and Finn interact is hilarious. If there’s one thing that Andrew Smith excels at, it’s writing great bromances. It was evident in Winger, and it’s evident in 100 Sideways Miles. Whether they’re hanging out at baseball practice, sitting in class, lounging by the pool, or getting into trouble, Finn and Cade are hysterical together. The ribbing and banter between them is stellar, and there’s a scene where the boys go to a 7-Eleven to buy condoms that had me laughing till I cried.

As much as I was entertained by 100 Sideways Miles, I still wish there’d been a little more meaning to it. If you’re simply looking for fun and laughter this book may be a good choice for you, but if you want something more I’d look elsewhere.

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

The Beginning of Everything Book Cover The Beginning of Everything
Robyn Schneider

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?

Review:

Picture me doing cartwheels, waving sparkly pompoms, and hopping around like a gleeful, demented cheerleader. If you envision all of that, you might have an inkling of how excited I am about The Beginning of Everything.

I can’t stop smiling, and I’m all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ve been looking for a book like this for a long time; when I read This is What Happy Looks Like, Eleanor & Park, and The Fault in Our Stars, this is the book I was hoping to get.

The idea behind The Beginning of Everything is that adversity can be a catalyst that changes our lives for the better, a whetstone that hones us into something sharper. It hurts you, yes, and it’s certainly unpleasant, but adversity forges you into something better and stronger than you were before. As Ezra Faulkner states in the beginning of the book:

“My own tragedy[…]waited to strike until I was so used to my good-enough life in an unexceptional suburb that I’d stopped waiting for anything interesting to happen. Which is why, when my personal tragedy finally found me, it was nearly too late. I had just turned 17, was embarrassingly popular, earned good grades, and was threatening to become eternally unextraordinary.”

For Ezra, tragedy comes in the form of a crippling car accident that takes him from star athlete and king of the school to a confused 17-year-old who no longer knows where he fits in the world. The accident forces him to re-evaluate his identity, his friendships, and his future. He must figure out what’s left after his defining characteristic – tennis star – has been stripped away. The answer is: a hell of a lot more than Ezra would’ve expected.

Ezra is the total package, the male protagonist I’ve been searching for since what feels like the beginning of time. He’s popular, good-looking, and athletic but avoids being the dumb-jock stereotype; he’s the sort of guy who’s popular because people respect him, not because they fear him. I can’t even begin to tell you how refreshing this is.

Ezra is an all-around good guy who’s friends with whoever he wants to be friends with, doesn’t treat the “little people” like crap, and has a backbone and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He makes witty puns, can enjoy parties without being a drunken idiot, is nuts about his standard poodle Cooper, and can laugh at himself. Also, did I mention he’s intelligent, funny, and a bit of a smart-ass? What more can a girl want?

Cassidy, the girl Ezra falls for in the book, is great, too. She’s got this alternative/hipster vibe that initially made me wary; I was afraid she’d end up fitting into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, which I wouldn’t have been able to handle (I have an abiding hatred for  MPDG’s that started with John Green’s Looking for Alaska). However, Cassidy ended up being fun and likable as opposed to annoying and cliche.

In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the characters in The Beginning of Everything. The kids Ezra starts hanging out with after his accident are witty and smart, with a peculiar nerdy charm and lots of clever repartee. I wanted to be included in the debate team crew, with their crazy hotel-room parties, “positive vandalism,” classic movie marathons in the deserted school, and other hijinks. The camaraderie they share is wonderful, and the banter and teasing among Ezra’s new friends made me nostalgic for my own high school days.

The characters may be the best part of The Beginning of Everything, but rest assured that there’s also a tight plot and a great story arc. Something I found refreshing is that this isn’t a book about how a bad person is made into a better one through the transforming power of love. Rather, it is a story about a good person being pushed to become an even better person through his own power. I really, really appreciated that.

Not everything in this book is happy-go-lucky, but I finished it feeling hopeful and optimistic. I want you to feel this way, too, so please go read The Beginning of Everything! And then let’s discuss!