- Hardcover: 232 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (October 12, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374306591
- ISBN-13: 978-0374306595
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,220,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Beginner's Guide to Living Hardcover – October 12, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up–With the sudden death of his mother, Will begins to question everything to find the meaning of life. He grieves as he searches through memory, religion, philosophy, art, and relationships. Still he is able to find no peace or happiness, except when he is with his new girlfriend, Taryn. Too soon that relationship, though vital, begins to wear thin as all Will finds are more questions and no answers. The Beginner's Guide to Life is a novel of someone in true existential crisis. The teen is thrown by the loss of his mother, which he cannot understand. The book is his quest. Its strengths are the relationships. Each and every one feels authentic: the father with his sons, the brotherly rivalry, the couple, but all of that is overshadowed by Will's need for answers. Beautifully written, this novel will appeal to teens who are deep thinkers and questioners.–Melyssa Kenney, Parkville High School, Baltimore, MD. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
After his mother is killed by a drunk driver, 17-year-old Will is shocked when he falls at first sight for beautiful Taryn at the funeral: “I am the king of bad timing. Only a monster could think of love.” The teens meet again when Taryn’s parents invite Will and his dad for dinner, and their immediate, all-encompassing connection begins to loosen Will’s grief: “The fact that I love her makes it possible to exist.” Photography and philosophy help, too, and Will shares his pictures (interspersed throughout the chapters) and meaningful quotes with Taryn, whose sensitivity contrasts starkly with Will’s remote dad and resentful older brother. Still, Will’s struggles with the weight of his loss and the resulting surge of existential questions threaten to sabotage everything that sustains him. Set in Melbourne, Australia, Hills’ debut explores grief, first love, and first sex with poetic frankness that although occasionally mannered is also refreshing, whether Will is feeling suffocated by well-meaning neighbors or awestruck and alive as he imagines a map of the universe in Taryn’s freckled face. Grades 9-12. --Gillian Engberg
Top customer reviews
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The story is one that bounces a bit like a pinball after it's been shot into the game. The more Will tries to find a reason for his mom's death, the more confusing and profound his questions become. Over the course of the story, he comes up with twenty of them that he feels need to be answered in order for life to resume (for example: How many questions does it take? What fragment of truth will be mine? Can one life replace another?) Interspersed with his attempts to find all the questions and some of the answers are flashbacks from moments he remembers about his mother. These really add a lot to the reader's understanding.
Will skips school, gets into an unplanned and impetuous situation with a checkout girl at a supermarket, strikes up random conversations with people he meets (on buses, on trains, even in a remote park by a secluded pond) as well as trying to learn meditation from Taryn's older sister recently returned from living with drug lords in Pakistan. There are times when his desperate need to make sense of his mother's death threaten to destroy the only source of strength he has left, his relationship with Taryn.
I liked this book a lot although it wasn't as easy to get into as some. The sex may turn off some teens, although it's far from graphic. This is a book for readers who like to be forced to think about what they're reading as well as an interesting take on the grieving process from a very smart, but introverted male teen's perspective.
Luckily, Hills compensates for these occasional odd moments. There’s a wealth of wisdom and insight to be found on these pages, and a couple of lines are so heartbreaking that they just stopped me in my tracks. For example, there is a point in the novel when Will asks his dad what he feels is the worst thing about the death of Will’s mom. His dad answers simply, “That I didn’t die first.” After I read this, I was so overcome with emotion that I had to put the book down for a minute or two.
There are also some observations and statements that struck me as incredibly profound. Will is full of grief and rage and despair, and his life is nearly unbearable; making it through a single day without his mother seems impossible, let alone the rest of his life. Taryn is one of the only people who can reach him through the haze of grief, and Will observes, “The fact that I love her makes it possible to exist.” This sentence may be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.
One thing that didn’t appeal to me, at least initially, is the fact that the book’s structure seems very loose. I wasn’t able to discern much of a story arc, at least in terms of major action. Will mostly just writes in his journal, meditates, reads and questions, and while these things are all well and good, they’re not what I think of as the components of a solid plot.
This really bothered me at first, but my opinion changed after I reached the last page and took a moment to really think about what I’d read: a story about how losing someone sets you adrift. In the real world, there is no rhyme or reason to grief, no clearly defined path from Point A, devastation, to Point B, healing. It makes sense, then, that there isn’t an easily identifiable plot to The Beginner’s Guide to Living. The structure mirrors the reality of the grieving process, blind and aimless and desperate. It’s actually kind of brilliant that Hills wrote the book this way, and I have a greater appreciation for it as a result.
This review can also be found on my blog,http://AngelasLibrary.com.