“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..”
Ezra believes that within everyone’s life a tragedy lies waiting, and that only after said tragedy occurs does one’s life truly begin. Or, maybe, that is just how he wants to see the world since tragedy has befallen the once “golden boy” of Eastwood high school, a fictional school in a fictional Orange County town that seems very much like the Irvine I grew up close by to. Ezra’s tragedy changes his life drastically, and it is now up to him to decide how it changes him within that life.
This is more than the typical coming-of-age story, and it is more than the young adult label may suggest, this is a book about living at any age, about loss and love, and about figuring out who you are deep down inside, and not just who you are to the world around you. It will most likely be categorized on the “if you like John Green” shelf, which is not a wrong summation, but I think it is unique in its voice, style and character, as well.
My initial love for this book came to me because of location. The setting, though fictionally named, is the area of Southern California that I came of age in. I know this place, and the inhabitants that live and grow there. I know the streets and the landmarks, the sound of the Disneyland fireworks, the fear of coyotes and the wealth backed right up to the migrant worker groves. I also know the pressure of the schools and students who live there, and the perceptions that so many try to live up to, or at least survive within.
This book reads immediate, as if it was written yesterday, with nods to songs and bands, fads and technology. There are silent flash mobs, Doctor Who references, pep rallys to Vampire Weekend and make-out sessions to Bon Iver songs. And, there are philosophy and literary references that delight the book geek in me. The book overflows in pop culture in just the way that I adore.
The characters are the kind that creep in and stick to my heart, especially Ezra and Toby. I loved their friendship, the complexities and ebb and flow that often happens to friends who meet in childhood and drift during adolescence. Theirs was my favorite relationship, and I was glad to see it transcend throughout the span of the story. I was also partial to Ezra and his dog, Cooper, very much a “boy and his dog” emotional tug that had me literally in tears at a certain point. I also loved that Ezra and Cooper had a Nick and Jay Gatsby relationship (loved The Great Gatsby references).
Cassidy, the girl who comes into Ezra’s life at the post-tragedy turning point was a tough one for me. I wanted to like her, I wanted her to come around in the end and be something more for herself, and for Ezra, but she never did. There were shades of the “manic pixie girl” to her (I vehemently hate that term though), and at times she struck me as a teenage version of Clementine (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), except not as likable, to me. Though, I will say that the wanting to like her and not ever getting there was unique, and in some ways I welcomed it. She was part of Ezra’s journey, and not every part of our epic life journeys include people who stick and stay forever.
My two complaints are that I wish the author had stuck to the initial title of the book, Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, which I think fit so much more and has a more unique punch to it. Also, the narrator, Dan John Miller, while fabulous as Ezra, was terrible when doing the girl’s voices. It came across as a bad parody of a 1980′s Valley Girl and was often times distracting to the female dialogue.
Beyond these minor complaints, I loved the book, the characters, the references, the setting, and the relationships. Ezra and Toby are now part of my list of favorite fictional characters, and Cooper, on a new list of favorite fictional dogs.
“Oscar Wilde once said that to live is the rarest thing in the world, because most people just exist, and that’s all. I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that I spend a long time existing, and now, I intend to live.”
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