In addition to providing lovable characters and an innovative plot, Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything is sure to entertain readers with its many pop culture references. From Harry Potter to Shakespeare and The Great Gatsby to Ender's Game, the references make the characters relatable and leave the audience eagerly searching for more. RT Books talked with Schneider about her reason for writing in this style, how it adds to her characters' personas, and her inspiration as a writer.
What kind of audience do you think will enjoy the numerous references you include? Does this group differ from the kind of audience you would expect to enjoy a more traditional coming of age or manic pixie dream girl story?
The Beginning of Everything is a coming of age story about growing up misunderstood and unsure, and I’d hope that’s something many readers can relate to. As to the references in the book: I’ve always loved when I can find a tiny thing to take home with me from a fictional story, whether that’s a new band to check out, or a moment of “oh, I love that too!” As a teenager, I was forever seeing which books Rory read on Gilmore Girls and then going to the library to get them. Oh dear. I suppose I got it from watching too much Gilmore Girls.
Do you have different reasons for including both large-scale allusions (e.g. The Great Gatsby) and subtle one-liners (e.g. Ender's Game)?
I would say that things like The Great Gatsby and Foucault’s Panopticon are metaphors used throughout the story, while one-liners like the Ender’s Game thing are there because that’s how teenagers talk. They’re constantly referencing pop culture, “shipping” characters, quoting TV shows, really anything that resonates with them. Teens don’t just passively consume culture, they actively become fans of it, decorating their bedrooms and their blogs with pictures of whatever or whomever they’re into. So it only seemed natural for some of that to seep into the dialogue, at least with the members of the debate team.
Similarly, do you have different reasons for referencing both high-brow (e.g. Shakespeare, the Panopticon) and more traditionally teen-friendly (e.g. Harry Potter) works?
I wanted to write a story for genre enthusiasts as opposed to a work of genre fiction. Ezra’s new group of friends geek out over Harry Potter and read graphic novels, but Ezra isn’t used to this, and in the beginning the nerd culture goes over his head. I did this intentionally, so readers don’t feel left out if they miss anything, because Ezra basically misses everything and is okay with that. But while the members of the debate team connect over shared favorites (like Doctor Who), Ezra’s and Cassidy’s connection is on a much deeper level. They’re the ones who discuss Shakespeare, Foucault and Banksy. They find each other in shared philosophies, as opposed to shared favorite franchises.
Did you intentionally set out to include certain references in the book, or did they come to you naturally while you were writing?
Ezra has always been very easy to write. He popped into my head exactly as you read him on the page, this devastatingly broken boy who had miscalculated his destiny and mistakenly placed his faith in a girl as miserable and adrift as himself. I never sat and forced anything into the story that didn’t belong there; if I did, it immediately felt off key. The whole thing was like improvisational jazz-I let the characters talk, and I listened.
Do you prefer to reference works you enjoyed reading?
I enjoy most things, and the characters that come out of my head are also limited to my own pop culture library. My characters are fans of things already in my wheelhouse, but sometimes these are things I would have liked to come across earlier, as a teenager, so it’s fantastic to be able to give those things to my readers. But my characters and I don’t always have the same taste. Ezra despised one of my favorite bands, and whenever I tried to listen to them, I couldn’t write a word. He actually mocked them in the book a few times. I was horrified.
How much of the characters' personalities is a reflection of yours (e.g. your YouTube channel has a video about the cool German words that Cassidy uses)?
Ezra’s inner monologue is very much my own. People are always surprised that I wrote a book from a boy’s perspective, but the truth is, I wrote a book that was so emotionally autobiographical that I had to force myself to fictionalize it somehow. I was never a star athlete, but I know what it’s like to question the ideas everyone else seems to have about your future. I was never the victim of a hit and run accident, but I know what it’s like when your friends disappoint you. As for Cassidy, I’m always disappointed when people see her in me, as she’s a girl whom it’s never wise to be: a cautionary tale masquerading as a person. (And yes, I did make some YouTube videos on topics that also appear in the book, I was puzzling through how I wanted to present those ideas and themes and I suppose they seeped out through my YouTube channel in real time.)
Is there another writer or book whose style you modeled in regard to referencing other works?
I read too much. I also Internet too much, but that’s a whole different story. I suppose what happened is that I got a little too into Tumblr while I was reading Salinger and Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and that produced a bunch of sarcastic teenagers who invent their own slang while dropping deadpan references to science fiction, and a narrator who’s convinced that his poodle is a metaphor for Jay Gatsby.
But let’s just blame Amy Sherman Palladino, the creator of the TV show Gilmore Girls. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be Lorelai.
Be sure to pick up a copy of this enthralling book in-stores or online today! And for even more young adult books, authors, and buzz, head on over to our Everything Young Adult Page!