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?
An empathetic and suspenseful coming-of-age story from the author of All That Impossible Space.
Before the Beginning by Anna Morgan, published September 29th, 2020. I received a review copy from Hachette via the #AusYABloggers – Thank You!
Anna Morgan’s writing captured me from the first page. I loved this book way more than I was expecting to. I went into this book thinking it was a contemporary coming of age tale, it is that, but it is also so much more. My Rating: ✵✵✵✵✵
This “schoolies” story is split up into five parts and is told through multiple points of view as the plot progresses.
The first narrator we meet is Grace. She is extremely endearing, and I was immediately drawn to her. Grace is at a point in her life where she is finding her church and her friend group does not fit her anymore (hence why she is spending schoolies with her brother’s mates). Nothing makes me happier than normalised sexual diversity, so Grace getting to have her first girl on girl kiss on the island and getting to journey with her as her entire world shifts, was bliss. While we are inside Grace’s head, we find out how lost and alone she is feeling. But also, how worried she is for her brother’s future too, even if for the most part he treats her dismissively and she always feels she has to compete with him and make up for his shortcomings.
The second narrator we meet is Noah. Oh, what a beautiful Bubba Boy. I just wanted to hug Noah and take him to therapy. This kid made the mother in me rear up, I wanted to help this kid. I wanted to nurture this kid. I saw a lot of my eldest son in Noah and it made my heartache. The poor bub has crippling anxiety and is way too hard on himself. He is super smart and a total sweetheart. While we are inside Noah’s head, we find out how pressure is on him to succeed and we see him crumble and break – thankfully he has good mates to help put him with some much-needed RNR and moral support.
The third narrator we meet is Casper at just around the halfway mark of the story. I really did not like Casper until I got to be in his head. He tends to get lost in his own head, losing track of the real world, and sometimes really struggles to get out and is left feeling a little out of sync. With the end of his chapters, we get to experience him realising what a dick he had been, but also the story really ramps up in suspense and action.
The fourth narrator we meet is Elsie. Oh Elsie, she is trying to get over her crush on her bestie, trying to figure out what she wants to do after school, who she wants to be, and trying to hold her group of friends together. Elsie and Grace were quite standoffish at first and I loved seeing their friendship grow.
For the fifth and final part of the story narration swaps back to Grace.
I have talked about the others, so now I must mention the last of all the main characters, the one who pushes the plot along to its flaring conclusion, but does not get to narrate the story. The one teen who was a stranger to the rest of them in the beginning. Oh, Sierra! Is she the ghost of a girl who died on Shearwater Island, or just a copycat using her name, or is she something else, perhaps a mythical creature from the sea? I do not want to tell you what I think about who or what Sierra is (I changed my mind a few times along the way). I want you to meet her and make up your own mind.
This book touches on faith, sexuality, sibling rivalry, growing up, the pressure put on kids relating to final exams, and picking the perfect careers. Each of the four friends’ journeys was beautiful, full of reflection and personal growth, their time on the island only strengthening their bonds of friendship.
BEFORE THE BEGINNING is a phenomenal read, a cut above the rest, and it will stay with you for quite some time.
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