Book Review: We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker

Book Review: We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker


We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Macmillan Audio, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

We Begin at the End has been on my radar since my co-blogger Emma read it and loved it last year. Petrik and TS decided to pick it up as well, even though it’s not something within their usual genre wheelhouses. Again, they loved it. But they warned me that it was heartbreaking and, since I had been going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I held off until I felt like I was emotionally strong enough to handle it. I’m so glad I did, because I can say without a single qualm that it will be only my list of favorite books read in 2021, but the heart-wrenching emotion of it would have kept it from the same list last year. It really pays to wait until the right moment to read this type of book, and I’m glad I had friends to caution me in that regard.

“Better and worse. Bad and good. None of us are any one thing. We’re just a collection of the best and worst things we’ve done.”

This book is one of the most devastating things I’ve ever read. It was beautiful, and the characters were incredibly real, but it made my chest physically ache as I was reading. I actually had to put it down and walk away a couple of times because I had reached my emotional threshold. I cared so much about this stories and every single character populating it. The plot was also deeply compelling and surprisingly unpredictable. I didn’t solve the mystery elements before the characters in the book did so themselves, and that’s something at which I generally excel. It was refreshing to be kept guessing, but without the author throwing in wild twists that were literally impossible to predict. After all was revealed, I could see where the narrative had always been pointing in that direction.

“Is there a difference between a prayer and a wish?”
“You wish for what you want, and pray for what you need.”

There were two main perspective characters in this story: Duchess, a thirteen-year-old girl with the world on her shoulders who identifies as an outlaw and just wants to take care of her brother; and Walk, the sheriff of Duchess’s small town who tries his best to care for his people while fighting hard against change. While the supporting cast was absolutely wonderful, and Walk was a great character, Duchess was undoubtedly the star of the show. Her rage was always at war with her kindness except for when it came to her little brother. She’s young and fierce and broken and so strong in the face of all of it that it made my heart ache. I’ve never in my life wanted to reach into a book and save a child as much as I wanted to save her. For her creation alone, I would have called Whitaker a master of his craft, but every single character in this book was heartbreakingly multifaceted. I’m truly in awe.

“Hope is secular. And life is fragile. And sometimes we hold on too tight, even though we know it’ll break.”

I received an audio copy of this book through NetGalley and, though I tandem-read the digital copy, I’m incredibly glad I experienced this via audio. This is only the second book I’ve heard narrated by George Newbern, the first being A Man Called Ove. With both narrations, Newbern did an absolutely brilliant job. Every character’s voice was unique and easily identifiable, and not a single one of those voices felt cheesy or stereotypical. Emotion dripped from every sentence. While I have no doubt I would have still loved this book had I strictly read it with my eyes, having Newbern narrate the story for me as I read added a resonance to the experience that was truly something special.

“If the good stand by idle, are they still good?”

We Begin at the End wrecked me. It upset my faith in people, but it also managed to restore that same faith. I met characters who I don’t think I will ever be able to forget. While I’m not sure this is a book I can reread, because it hurt so much the first time, reading it was an experience that mattered. It impacted me deeply. I’m thankful to my friends for recommending it, and stand in awe of Whitaker for writing it. He had something to say, and he said it incredibly well.

You can order this book from: Bookshop.org (Support independent bookstores!) | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Audible | Libro.fm (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide!)

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