Review: Before The Beginning by Anna Morgan

on Australian, LoveOzYA, Young Adult Books
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Before the Beginning by Anna Morgan
Published by Hachette Australia
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This post is part of the Aus YA Bloggers Blog Tour and a copy of the book was provided by the publisher.

Synopsis

The story of four friends, a mysterious stranger, and the week when everything changed. For fans of We Were Liars.

Schoolies week: that strange in-between time when teenagers move from school into the adult world. It's a week when anything is possible, and everything can change.

Grace is questioning everything she thought about herself, and has opted not to join her clique of judgemental friends for schoolies, instead tagging along with her brother Casper and his friends. Casper, an artist, is trying to create the perfect artwork for his uni application folio. Overachieving, anxiety-ridden Noah is reeling from a catastrophe that might have ruined his ATAR result. And Elsie is just trying to figure out how to hold their friendship group together.

On the first night of the trip, they meet Sierra, a mysterious girl with silver-grey hair and a magnetic personality. All of them are drawn to her for different reasons, and she persuades them to abandon the cliched schoolies experience in favour of camping with her on a remote, uninhabited island. On that island, each of them will find answers to their questions. But what does Sierra want from them?

On the first night of the trip, they meet Sierra, a mysterious girl with silver-grey hair and a magnetic personality. All of them are drawn to her for different reasons, and she persuades them to abandon the cliched schoolies experience in favour of camping with her on a remote, uninhabited island. On that island, each of them will find answers to their questions. But what does Sierra want from them?


Review

Anna Morgan’s second novel, Before the Beginning, is a contemporary coming-of-age story that dabbles around the edges of other genres, with satisfying results. If you enjoyed her first book, All That Impossible Space, I think you will enjoy this one. It has the same depth and nuanced exploration of adolescent turning points, with a subtle thread of mystery and maybe a touch of mythology.

The book is set over schoolies week and cleverly structured into five parts, each told from the perspective of one of the four main characters: Grace, Noah, Casper and Elise (Grace wraps up the final part). Interspersed through the chapters are entries from a Dictionary of Undersea Beings, as well as occasional segments of possible past events on the island. I thought this was done particularly well; it added to the mysterious elements of the story, leaving the narrated sections to focus on the more relational aspects. The use of multiple narrators was also particularly effective, each character with their distinctive perspective meant I identified with them very clearly while the story was from their perspective. Overall this worked really well to show the different ways they experienced the same situation and also how they were understanding (or misunderstanding) each other. The individual relationships and internal struggles about the future were nuanced and deeply felt.

Each character is struggling with issues that are connected to finishing high school and about to move into adulthood, responsible for their wide-open futures. Grace is struggling with her faith and what that means about the certainty of who she is, Noah is very anxiously awaiting exam results he’s sure he’s failed, Casper is facing creative difficulties when he needs to develop a portfolio, and Elsie is not sure about what she wants to do and how to keep their friendship together. Then there is Sierra, the mysterious girl they just met, who might tear them apart, or bring them closer together.

Using the four different perspectives also means there is a lot of relatable elements for readers to connect to. The quality writing makes it easy to relate to each of them, whether you’ve personally experienced their specific situation or not. But I also think, given the depth and complexity of each character, any reader could find something to connect with that they themselves have experienced. For me, Noah was the character I felt most connected to. Since it’s in the synopsis I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say Noah is struggling with crippling anxiety over his exam results.

Noah’s section was honestly quite intense to read. Seeing things that are hard to articulate put into words feels really good. The way Anna Morgan wrote his anxiety and his methods for dealing (or not dealing) was really well done. The build-up of anxious thoughts, his inability to explain his fears and therefore to even mention anything connected to the situation, and both overwhelming paralysis and out-of-control reaction were particularly well captured. The interaction between this and the physical effects of anxiety was also depicted clearly. I had such strong sympathy for Noah through this section I had actual anxiety pains myself. While everyone experiences anxiety differently, I thought it was an excellent representation.

Anna Morgan is very thoughtful in her exploration of the various stressors and situations each character struggles through. She doesn’t provide pat answers or even clear solutions, but each character arrives at a place where there is a sense of comfort and the possibility to go forward.

Overall, Before the Beginning is a thoughtful and sincere story about change and the future, about letting go and about moving forward. The story is tied up just enough to satisfy, while leaving you to draw your own conclusions about what the future will bring Grace, Noah, Caspar and Elise, as well as what really happened to Sierra.

Don't forget to check out the other tour stops.


Anna was born in Sydney, but spent most of her childhood surrounded by mountains in Nepal and Tibet while her parents were part of an international community of health professionals. Navigating this cross-cultural life made her a curious observer of people, although most of her time was spent reading Enid Blyton and dreaming of going to boarding school. This did not cushion the shock of shifting from home-school in Tibet to an all-girls high school in Melbourne when her family returned to Australia. All That Impossible Space explores some of the intense and convoluted friendships that thrive in this setting. Anna completed a MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University in 2015, and now lives in Melbourne with her husband. She works as a bookseller.

You can find Anna online via Twitter, Instagram or Goodreads.

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