Hachette, A Lothian Children’s book, Australia 2020
This is Anna Morgan’s second book, following All that Impossible Space, published in 2019 by Hachette and awarded a CBCA Notable Book for Older Readers.
Before the Beginning is a sensitive, though never self-indulgent, exploration of teenage angst, particularly that delicate place of transition, the end of the last year of school – the space between the end of school and the beginning of entering a new stage of life, typically at work, university or other tertiary study or through travel.
Anna’s four main protagonists, Elsie, Grace, Jasper and Noah, reflect different aspects of adolescent insecurity – relationships of all kinds, long held beliefs, expectations of self and others to perform academically, fitting in with a tribe, social and mental wellness.
They embark on a trip to a Schoolies Week venue, but all find it not quite to their liking and choose instead to go with the enigmatic Sierra to an environmentally protected island, which is actually off limits to visitors.
In turn each of these characters comes under Sierra’s sphere of influence and in the process of working through his or her own motivations and actions arrives at an epiphany – if not a complete change of direction at least an assessment of possibilities not previously considered.
Anna Morgan captures perfectly not just the voice of the adolescent but also the crushing anxiety this period of life can bring. While the novel has a strong supernatural element, it is the reality and authenticity of these feelings that anchors the story.
The environment also plays a strong role, particularly the sea. The water element provides a physical barrier between the mainland and the island and a metaphysical barrier or transition point for the young people. There are many beautiful descriptive passages in the book of aspects of the ocean, demonstrating the author’s affinity with the sea.
There are also explorations of questions of care for the environment, the need for pristine places to remain untouched by human recreational activity, thoughts current after the fierce summer of 2019/2020.
These external world strands reflect the interplay of the four teenagers, their internal reflections and the dawning self-awareness as they realise the need to care for one another and to understand the care, and hence the behaviour and demands, of their families.
Before the Beginning is not just a fine book for young adult readers, but for those of us well beyond that time of tumultuous introspection and self-doubt. It reminds us that our actions do affect others and can endure well beyond our lifetime.
It also reminds us of our younger selves. And importantly, it allows us to revisit that time when perhaps we gave more careful attention to reflection and remaking of the self.
Thanks to Hachette for sending me a review copy.