Where It Began – Ann Redisch Stampler

Hey, that’s definitely how Gabby looks after a car crash!

Synopsis

Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving—and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.

As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?

As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex…and that nothing about her life is what she has imagined it to be.

Review

This book was fantastic.

I realized a main plot point very early on in the story, but it made sense that Gabby didn’t realize it until it was right in her face. The fact that everyone assumed she knew (including her best friends) added to the authenticity of the story, in my opinion. She was in denial because she wanted that perfect life that would please her parents.

Speaking of her parents, they were some of the worst I’ve ever read about. Gabby’s mother brought down her self-esteem so low, had such poor priorities, and didn’t even believe her by the end of it. I saw some hope in Gabby’s father, at least. But I really wish Gabby’s mother made some progress at some point or another. I couldn’t fault her for wanting the best for Gabby, but she seriously had the wrong idea of going about it. I kind of wished she got some therapy too, hah! It absolutely seemed plausible that Gabby’s lack of self-confidence and self-worth stemmed from a lifetime of not measuring up to her parents’ expectations and hopes. She had a serious inferiority complex that I’ve sadly come to see in real life as well — we live in a world where having sub-regular hair is more horrific than having to move across the ocean to come to terms with yourself.

I hate how Billy Nash never faced any consequences, but at the same time, I know that’s how the real world works. As messed up as politics of the 3B’s were portrayed, it was realistic. If you have money, you can get away with murder (and it’s crazy how that’s almost not merely an idiom in this case). It isn’t right, but not much can be done about it.

The fact that Gabby had to go away across the world to escape that same past is also an unfortunate truth. She got out of probation, at least, but she had to go through great lengths to retain some sense of normalcy. Her life was changed irrevocably because of that one night. But at the same time, she did drown her sorrows in alcohol. She had her own demons to get over, and I’m glad she was coming to terms with that by the end of the story. She was lucky for her art teachers and her support system (although none of them were painted as paragons of virtue, thankfully).

Billy, on the other hand, showed no sense of remorse or guilt at the end. It seems impossible for anyone to be that selfish. I wish Billy was even a little more considerate. Even Andie realized this when she told Andy that Billy wasn’t a good person, despite being their best friend. Andy had his faults for understanding the situation in its near-entirety, but at least he felt guilty about it. For the most part though, the Andies were in their own bubble, which is true about most acquaintances. They worry about you to the extent that your problems affect them.

Aside from Billy and perhaps Gabby’s mother, the characters in this book were incredibly authentic. They all made mistakes, they all had their issues, but they all had reasons and motivations for their actions.

My only other gripe would be the slightly-off vocabulary used. The use of “totally” and other YA-isms made the book seem a little younger than it could have been. Otherwise, its depiction of teenagers today hit the mark.

Related Reading

  • Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver
  • If I Stay – Gayle Forman
  • Any book where the unpopular girl gets a makeover, attracts the alpha male, and skyrockets to pseudo-popularity

Rating: 5/5

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