Dear Robyn Schneider,

I read The Beginning of Everything on an airplane. I was surrounded by my sleeping family, strangers’ faces lit by MacBooks, and little wailing kids shushed by their parents. I figured I’d pass the time reading one of the many silly coming-of-age novels I had stuffed in my carryon. I expected meaningless. I certainly didn’t think I would end up crying into my sleeve, my mind racing with an incredible new reality. I walked onto that plane, like many, struggling under the weight of insecurity. I left with a lightened heart and a new sense of confidence.

When I was younger, I spent every free moment reading. I immersed myself in Harry Potter and Pendragon so that I wouldn’t have to deal with my own life. It wasn’t until around fifth grade that I came out of my shell and found a balance between imagination and actually living my life. But as soon as I started spending less time in my own head, I began the unfortunately unavoidable middle school routine of comparing myself to others. It wasn’t necessarily that I disliked who I was; I had my own sense of confidence. I did, however, put people up on pedestals and in doing so put myself below them. Everyone in middle school is at least a little bit insecure. I was never too deeply self-conscious about my weight or acne or braces. For me, it was the girls at school and on Instagram who just seemed impossibly perfect.

I related to Ezra through our shared habit. He is instantly likeable. Friendly and smart, yet struck by tragedy; he reads like a real, flawed person, not a seemingly perfect fictional character. His main emotional pitfall is his tendency to idolize people and mistake this for love. Charlotte is radiant, the stereotypical popular high school cheerleader. When they dated, he didn’t see that she was selfish, abusive, and taking advantage of him. Cassidy is the mysterious new girl. She is an enigma, and Ezra is too shallow to see that he can’t really love her without first understanding her.

Your writing dragged me right into the story. I was immersed in Ezra’s head, just as elated and angry and completely in love as he was at any given moment. When his life revolved around Cassidy, I grew to idolize her along with Ezra. I too associated his change in character with Cassidy’s influence. That night at Castle Park, when she said the words that ruined his life, I felt pure betrayal. I suddenly realized that Ezra had only loved Cassidy for her shell. He never dug deep enough to see her flaws, her hurt, her shame. He was too naive to see the pain she was hiding. Had he asked more questions, and had she told the truth, he could have known and loved her for who she was. Instead he distanced himself from her through idolization.

As I read, I realized how often I did this in my own life. I would decide that someone I knew was perfect and that I was below them. This gave them influence over me. Like Ezra, I only saw the outside; the show they put on. Now I see that many of the girls I idolized had just as many weaknesses as I did, and a few even idolized me. We’re all just people, flawed and burdened yet profoundly blessed, trying to make sense of our lives. The only way to find true confidence is to accept and love everyone as an equal. Thank you, Ms. Schneider, for creating an integral part of my journey towards this confidence.




Sarah Helmbrecht

Page last modified: April 7, 2016