Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

The Start of Me and You is a story about a young girl struggling to come to terms with the death of a friend while learning to live again. At it's heart is a tender story, well told of a friendship blossoming unexpectedly into a first love.

Paige Hancock lives in Oakhurst, Indiana with her mother and her younger sister, Cameron. A year earlier, Paige's first ever boyfriend, Aaron Rosenthal, whom she dated for a grand total of two months, died in a swimming accident. Paige has spent the last year attempting to come to terms with his death. In her school where everyone is defined by something, she is known as "the Girl Whose Boyfriend Died".

Paige encounters Ryan Chase, a boy she has had a crush on since forever, in Alcott's Books and Beans. She realizes that he understands what she's been going through, the sympathy from complete strangers since his sister was sick with cancer. They discover they share a class in Honors English.

Paige has just finished her therapy and she now has to cope on her own. With summer holidays coming to an end, she decides to plan out a great year, hoping that she can fake her way "through every step until things were truly good again." Her best friend Tessa McMahon suggests that Paige try to rejoin some of the groups she was a part of in freshman year. After talking with her Grammy who is suffering from short term memory loss, Paige is inspired to draw up a list that includes 1. Parties/social events, 2.New group, 3.Date, 4. Travel and 5. Swim. The last item on the list, Paige is certain she never wants to do again.

Paige's junior year starts with her learning from her friend Morgan Sullivan that Ryan broke up with girlfriend Leanne Woods over the summer. In Honors English, Ryan is there with his cousin, Max Watson who had been attending a private school, Coventry School. The new teacher, Ms. Pepper seats Ryan just behind Paige, making her very happy to be so near her crush. However, the seating arrangement doesn't last long, before Ms. Pepper has Max switch seats with Ryan who has spent too much time talking with his buddy, Tyler. Ms. Pepper informs the class that they need one more person for the Oakhurst Quizbowl team. Paige decides to join the team, believing it will help her move forward and is surprised to learn that Max is the team captain.

Meanwhile Paige is stunned to learn from both her parents that they are dating - each other. This makes her very uncomfortable but her sister Cameron is more accepting. Her parents have been divorced for over five years and Paige is shocked that they have been dating for the past four months. It was Aaron's death that brought them together again. At Maggie Brennan's party Paige learns that Tessa now has lunch with Ryan, making her just a bit jealous. But Tessa isn't interested at all in Ryan. Paige encounters Max sitting in a room at the party by himself reading and later by Ryan's car as she is leaving. Paige decides to stay and talk with Max, in the hopes of meeting Ryan. The night ends with Paige altering her list of things to do, scratching out attending parties and amending number three to specifically dating Ryan Chase.

In English class, Paige and Max are paired together for an exercise, leading them to learn a few details about each other. When Paige tells Max that she has the middle name of Elizabeth for the character in Pride and Prejudice, Max tells her that he thinks she's more a Jane Bennet who doesn't judge people, who is under-appreciated and quiet and kind. He nicknames her "Janie".

Max invites Paige to his house to meet the QuizBowl team and prepare for their first match. Paige meets his mom who is a pediatrician and also meets QuizBowl team members,  Malcolm and Lauren.When Max drives her home, Paige tells him about her family and her parents dating. Max listens patiently and then encourages Paige to look at what is happening from a different perspective.

At this point, Paige continues to be focused on Ryan and how she can spend time with him. When Max tells her about Ryan's break-up with Leanne and how he disliked her, Paige feels validated because she obviously doesn't like Leanne either. She feels that being friends with Max gives her a better chance of getting to know her crush, Ryan.

The first Quizbowl match is terrifying for Paige but she makes her way through it with Max's calm reassurances. Paige's life continues to intertwine with Max's. She and Max walk together on their way to lunch and to math class. At the movie theatre, when Tessa and the group decide to stay for a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Paige must leave to meet her mother's curfew, Max offers to drive her home. When Paige learns that her Grammy has suffered a stroke, Max drives her to the hospital and then tells Tessa what happened so she can be there for her.

Things become complicated when Ryan drives Paige to a get together at Alcott's and they kiss in his jeep, leaving Paige wondering just what the kiss means. During the winter he asks her to hang with him, while Max and Tessa go to see a band. During their time together, Paige helps Ryan plan a surprise party for Max and reveals that he's still not really over Leanne.

It takes a silly game at Max's birthday party, where Max and Paige spend seven minutes locked in a closet, for Paige to realize that she has feelings for Max. And those feelings have seriously thrown her plan for recovering her life into chaos.


The Start of Me and You is one the best young adult novels of 2015, with its positive portrayal of teen friendships, caring teen characters who grow through the story, and light romance. At the center is a strong female character, and excellent cast of supporting characters

Paige Hancock is a strong female character, demonstrating courage and fortitude. Having spent a year grieving over the loss of her friend Aaron, she decides to take control of her life,doing things that will challenge her. This leads her to join the Quizbowl club, where she comes to know Max Watson. But Paige isn`t focused on Max, she`s focused on attracting Ryan Chase who is her longtime crush. Paige uses his cousin Max in the hopes of gaining opportunities to be with Ryan and maybe become his girlfriend. However, Paige realizes several things; that Ryan is not quite over Leanne and that he is interested in her best friend Tessa. And while she`s been focusing on Ryan, she hasn`t recognized the reality of her relationship with Max. "Ryan was more an idea in my mind, and Max was a person -- my person. Sure, I daydreamed about Ryan,imagined being his girlfriend and what that would be like. But it was Max who remembered everything I ever told him, Max who looked perpetually delighted when I made him laugh...When had I learned him so completely?...It all played like a montage in my mind; Max by my side all these months...How had not seen him?"

Paige begins to realize that she's changed and that has affected her relationships. "Maybe my feelings for Max had been there the whole time, obscured by the rubble of the Ryan Chase crush I'd somehow outgrown. I'd been focusing on rebuilding the debris of my former life when instead I should have been clearing myself a path out. And that path led straight to Max." All this leads Paige to edit her list once again, crossing out Ryan and simply set the goal of dating. She'd liked Ryan in very superficial way that an eighth grader would, but Paige is no longer in eighth grade. Max is real and present in a way Ryan is not.

Max is a brilliant character, kind, intuitive and resilient. He also challenges Paige, recognizing that she's always preparing for something that is most likely to happen instead of working towards something she wants to happen. Max tries to get Paige to confront her fear of swimming but she's resistant and angry at him for trying to fix her. When Paige learns that Max has probably seen her list which has the intention to date Ryan Chase, she finally accepts that at first she used Max as a way to try to be with Ryan. While Max is initially deeply hurt by what Paige has done, his love for her allows him to forgive her. 
One of the more delightful characters in The Start of Me and You is Paige's grandmother whom she affectionately calls Grammy. Paige frequently visits her Grammy and is patient and kind towards her. often telling her about her life. Likewise Grammy is sensitive and able to recognize when her granddaughter is troubled. Despite having Alzheimer's and even after having a serious stroke, Grammy is able to impart her wisdom that comes from a long life. For example, when Paige tells her about her parents dating, Grammy tells her that her parents were very happy when they were first married, something Paige would not necessarily know. Grammy tells her "Things change. There are so many outside forces coming at marriage; finances and jobs and houses and children. You can lose each other if you're not careful. It doesn't mean it was all a wash." Just before her death, Grammy advises Paige to "love extra, even if it means you hurt extra, too." Grammy wisely tells her to "Just live your life."

One of the strongest themes in The Start of Me and You is that of positive female friendships. Paige, Tessa, Morgan and Kayleigh all help each other when they experience tough moments. When Tessa's parents miss their dinner date for her seventeenth birthday because they are stuck in China, Paige organizes a dessert buffet at Tessa's home.  When Morgan and Kayleigh have a falling out over Kayleigh's focus on her boyfriend Eric, Paige is able to smooth over the disagreement.  When Paige's grandmother has a stroke, Tessa leaves the Rocky Horror Show and comes to the hospital to provide emotional support for Paige and drives her home. Paige rescues Kayleigh when she is stranded after a party is raided by the cops. Reflecting on friendship, Paige believes that friends do favours without expecting anything in return. "In friendship, we are all debtors. We all owe each other for a thousand small kindnesses, for little moments of grace in the chaos...Because with true friends, no one is keeping score. But it still feels good to repay them --even in the tiniest increments." It is this portrayal of strong female friendships that is so refreshing and so unusual in young adult literature. There are no mean girls in this novel.

The Start of Me and You
also portrays parents in a positive and realistic way. Paige's parents have been divorced for five years but are now attempting to reconcile. Paige's father admits that the divorce was mostly his fault and that he's been going to therapy so that he won't make the same mistakes. He doesn't know if they will remarry, but "Nothing is more important to me than doing right by you and your mom." He's forthright and responsible. Both parents are portrayed as caring and involved in their children's lives. When Paige and Max's relationship collapses after the pool incident, Paige's mother takes the time to talk the her about what happened and to counsel her. Paige recognizes her mother's efforts. "...I felt grateful for my mom in a way that I never had before. She made an honest effort to hear me and to understand where I was coming from. " 

Lord uses foreshadowing in an interesting way. The Start of Me and You uses a familiar trope of a girl out to capture the cute high school athlete but who falls in love with the sensitive, nerdy geek. In a way it's fairly predictable but the author has a message for her readers and she uses Max to deliver it.  Paige tells Max she's upset about her parents dating because she knows how it will end. When Max is helping Paige to reconsider her parents dating, he uses the example of people rereading books in which they know the ending.  "In books, sometimes the foreshadowing is so obvious that you know what's going to happen. But knowing what happens isn't the same as know how it happens. Getting there is the best part."  And that is exactly the case with The Start of Me and You. All the characters in the book realize that Paige loves Max. Even Max knows she loves him. The reader too, begins to suspect early on that Paige is going to fall for Max. However Paige does not realize she loves Max until the very end. It's how she gets to that point that makes this novel so enjoyable. And along the way she too comes to realize that "Knowing what happens is different from knowing how it happens."

The Start of Me and You is a great summer read, but also a wonderful story about the power of friendship and the determination to move forward in life. The positive portrayals of female friendship, two parents attempting to recover their marriage, and relationships between the sexes make this an excellent novel. I can't wait to read more from this promising young adult author.

Book Details:

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
New York: Bloomsbury Children's Books    2015
373 pp.

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