Thursday, May 06, 2021

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker

 

First Line: You see something and you raise your hand.
 
Fragile Star Radley has been battered by life. Fortunately, her thirteen-year-old daughter, Duchess Day Radley, is a self-professed outlaw who possesses all the strength of will and determination that Star lacks. Duchess is the fierce protector of her six-year-old brother Robin and parent to her mother. The Radleys also have a guardian angel in Walker, who's the chief of police in their small coastal California town. Everything is serious to Walker, and he is still racked with guilt over providing the testimony that sent his best friend Vincent King to prison thirty years ago.
 
Secrets and ill feelings have been simmering away under the surface for years there in town, but everything comes to a boil when Vincent King is released from prison and returns to town. Both Walker and Duchess are going to find out which is stronger: the families they were born into or the families they've created.
 
~
 
We Begin at the End is an extraordinary novel and one that's difficult to talk about without giving plot points away. Just when I thought I had things figured out, author Chris Whitaker would throw in another twist, another surprise, and have me racing to reconfigure everything in my mind. The opening scene grabbed me by the throat, and I hadn't read many more pages before I knew that I was reading something very special. The further I read, the more I knew I was right.

We Begin at the End is a story about loyalty, a story about secrets, a story about redemption, and the one thing that powers this book into one of the best books I've ever read is its characters. These characters are going to live with me for a long time. Chief Walker, who seems to feel responsible for everyone and does his level best to protect them all. Dolly and Hal in Montana for their love and patience in dealing with difficult personalities. Martha May the lawyer who prefers defending battered women. Young Thomas Noble who sees Duchess Day Radley for the treasure she is and sticks to her like glue. 
 
And-- towering above them all-- Duchess Day Radley, herself. Readers will be hard-pressed to find another thirteen-year-old who can so easily make them wince, make them laugh, make them hold their breath, and make them cry. If you tell Duchess that, when life hands her lemons, she's supposed to make lemonade, you'd better duck because those lemons are going to be flying straight at your head. This young girl is so filled with rage and hurt and love that you want to wrap her in a bear hug and never ever let another thing hurt her. What does she want? It's simple. Just listen to what she tells her mother: "I just wish there was a middle, you know. Because that's where people live. It doesn't have to be all or nothing... sink or swim like that. Most people just tread water, and that's enough. Because when you're sinking, you're pulling us down with you."

If you want to know if Duchess Day Radley and her brother Robin ever get to experience life in the middle, pick up a copy of We Begin at the End. It's a phenomenal book.

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
ISBN: 9781250759665
Henry Holt & Company © 2021
Hardcover, 384 pages
 
Literary Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

11 comments:

  1. Wow. You got me right away. I had seen a recommendation on another blog, but was waiting to read the Kittling Books reviews.
    Another story focused on a young teenager. It is reminding me of The Distant Dead, Nothing So Dangerous and other stories about young people dealing with hard lives.
    My eyes were tearing up reading the review and the quote.
    So I'm sold on this book and will put it on library hold.

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    1. I think you're going to like it, Kathy. You're right on the money in comparing it to books like The Distant Dead and Nothing More Dangerous.

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    2. I love books like that, better get the tissues ready.

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  2. I've heard this was a really good book, Cathy, and your review is only making me more interested in it. It's very, very hard to get a teenager's voice right, so I give credit to Whitaker for that. And the characters do seem really well-developed and multi-layered. It sounds as though the setting is done very well, too, which is a big plus for me. I'm so glad you enjoyed this so well.

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  3. I have this one in my Kindle queue, but haven't read it yet. Now, I'm even more eager!

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    1. I think you're going to like it a lot, Jen.

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  4. I really liked this one...for exactly the reasons you highlight in this great review. Every time I thought the ride was over, we started moving toward the next peak again, and it just kept happening over and over. And that little girl is one of the best characters ever, just brilliantly written.

    Have you read anything else by Whitaker? I haven't, but I'm curious.

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    1. I'm curious, too. Amazon has two other books by Whitaker, Tall Oaks and All the Wicked Girls, and I have to admit that I'm very tempted by Tall Oaks.

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  5. I really loved this book. I participated in an author Q&A and everyone wanted to know if there would be another book and Whitaker said he didn't think so. Took him like 15 years to tell this story and he felt that it was told. Many great characters in this one.

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    1. I would have to agree with Whitaker. I think the story has been told, and readers can use their imaginations to envision Duchess's future. His other two books seem to be written in a similar vein, and I'm very tempted to read Tall Oaks.

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