A Beginning at the End, Mike Chen: A Review
I love a good apocalypse book, but I've been looking to branch out in the genre, find something more along the lines of Station Eleven, that focuses on what's left after the end.
A Beginning at the End explores just that. Rob and his daughter survived the pandemic and the quarantine. Moira, a former popstar, gave up her career as MoJo when the pandemic reached epic proportions and wants to stay under the radar. Krista, an event planner at the end of the world, struggles with forming personal relationships and questions what her purpose is when she's financially strapped and the threat of a new pandemic is on the horizon.
Thrust together by a series of random events, their lives become inextricably connected in a world where everything is paused. Here, the only blood-and-gore you'll get is through secondhand flashbacks of quarantine and the initial wave of pandemic fear. This book wants you to question what comes next, and I loved that. Weak infrastructure, little communication, and learning to cope with the emotional fallout are front and center. Relationships are delicate and fleeting, nothing seems permanent, and everyone is caught between the mourning of the past and the hope for a better future.
For those reasons, I really enjoyed A Beginning at the End.
I did think the characters were a little predictable. This won't be a read for everyone; parts are slow, sometimes painstakingly so, and the jump from timelines and perspectives may be cumbersome for readers who like a more cohesive story experience. I also have mixed feelings about the second half of the book. The conflict felt a little forced, and a few random jump thrills were thrown in to make the journey all the more exciting.
And, perhaps more than anything, I struggled with the daughter's age. *spoilers* I'm supposed to believe that Sunny, a seven year old girl, has the cognitive, emotional, and rational sensibilities to pack a bag, take food, money, and ID, chart a bus route, buy a ticket, leave a note, and travel across state lines on a mission to discuss her mother's health with the head of research. I've met a lot of seven year olds, and this seems like a huge stretch. I understand that sometimes children are charged with philosophical observations of the world around them, witty quips and astute remarks, but I just had such a hard time with this. She could've been ten or twelve and the narrative wouldn't have been affected. Instead, I have to willingly suspend my disbelief that a seven year old would start fist fights in school, fix her father's emotional health, and lead her own life-changing trek on the brink of a second pandemic.
I just...can't. I loved Sunny, but she read much older than seven to me, and for that, I was not nearly as immersed in the read as I wanted to be.
I'd recommend this for fans of Station Eleven, but it won't be for everyone.