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4.0 out of 5 stars
Severed Heads, Broken Hearts
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 2015
The Beginning Of Everything starts out vaguely promising, but quickly goes downhill. The main character, Ezra Faulkner, describes how everyone gets a tragedy, and in the case of his best friend Toby, it’s when he was on a rollercoaster and caught the head of a tourist in front of him who got decapitated by standing up on the ride. Ezra meanwhile has a tragedy all of his own – his girlfriend cheated on him. Granted, he then stormed from a party, had a car accident and his leg will never heal so he’ll never be able to play tennis again. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, none of his friends will talk to him anymore! Luckily, when he gets back to school, finding himself the unwanted centre of attention due to his accident, his old friend Toby (who he’s ignored for the last four years) decides to befriend him again.

Meanwhile, there’s a new girl at school, the wacky and kooky Cassidy Thorpe, and the two of them have been signed up to the debate team with Toby and all his misfit, madcap friends. Ezra finds himself attracted to Cassidy and her goofy ways and soon memories of his air-headed ex Charlotte are a thing of the past. But Cassidy is hiding a secret, and perhaps she’s not the manic pixie dream girl that he hopes she is after all…

Formulaic to a fault, this reads like John Green has started giving lessons on how to write obnoxious, pompous white teen male protagonists, or else is writing under a pen name himself. Ezra (because these characters are never called Dave) is fundamentally unpleasant, stumbling over himself to tell the reader that he didn’t mean to be so popular, or that he didn’t ask to live in a six-bedroom house with swimming pool, and that it isn’t his fault that he doesn’t really study but is just naturally so gifted. So he’s got a busted leg, big whoop. Cassidy, in turn, is everything a manic pixie dream girl should be – full of stories about her adventures abroad, has a disregard for school dress codes that would get any student but her suspended, and a penchant for fun childish adventures while avoiding talking about her deep, dark secret.

The characterisation is all off, too, and I’ve got page numbers to prove it. Ezra is painted as early as page 69 as an “illiterate jock” and yet this goes out the window just nine pages later when he discusses themes in Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez, a book he read for extra credit. On page 108 he finds himself in a university level organic chemistry class (don’t ask) and finds he’s an expert on the subject and just totally gets it. On page 276 he mentions and defines the German word kummerspeck, despite implying earlier he had no knowledge of even basic German. On 289, it’s noted that he understands the Latin term memento mori well enough to make a “joke” about it. And every other chapter gets a mention of The Great sodding Gatsby thrown in, given that it’s the only book most American high schoolers seem to have read.

I’m not even going to attempt to define the humour, but there are a lot of paragraphs where the characters get into hysterics or simply crack up at a comment one of them has made, but it’s an informed humour. I don’t see it. Schneider also appears to have them slightly out of time. If they’re sixteen, presumably they were born in the mid-to-late nineties but still have a moment where they pine for a life before mobile phones, which is a time even I barely remember, and I’m a good decade older than them.

There’s also the unforgivably bland and immature-sounding line, “and she bit my bottom lip a bit as we kissed, and I pretty much wanted to die, it was so sexy.” I read it deadpan and the action has never sounded quite so unsexy. These books do nothing but give teenagers an unrealistic picture of the world. It’s enough to give anyone a complex.

Granted, I will throw in a positive or two. Cassidy shoots Ezra down by the end and calls him out on treating her like a manic pixie dream girl (but even that’s not novel anymore) and the treatment of a student’s evolving sexuality is handled rather nicely, but otherwise, you can predict pretty much every page before you get to it, and call me old-fashioned, but I still like to be surprised by my literature every now and again.

If everyone does indeed get a tragedy, then this book may well have been mine.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I have to be honest and say that I feel a little self conscious writing this review after reading the author notes in the book about misinterpreting the theme of a book. However, you all know I am a huge believer in reading being subjective, so how can any intelligent interpretation be wrong - yeah I'm totally going with that ;)

This is one of those books that as a librarian I want to force into the hands of youths who hold the belief life owes them something. It maybe my age BUT the earlier they realise that life doesn't work that way the better off they will be. No-one is entitled to things you have to work for everything.

The writing is beautifully emotional, deep and profound; the references to other literary works add to the overall spirit and layers of the story; emphasising the points within the plot. From the first chapter the writing draws you into the story, including some direct address to the reader. The feel of Great Expectations permeates the narrative with the retrospective first person narrative. The intense descriptions place the reader in the middle of the events as they occur.

Told from Ezra's perspective, as the synopsis shows Ezra's life has been transformed following a car accident, he has always been defined by other peoples expectations of him rather than having his own dreams. What happens when those expectations can no longer be met, how do you define who you are now, the true essence of character development in real life as well as fiction. Popularity is a fleeting illusion, there is far more to gain out of life than being someone you're not in order to be popular.

The reactions of other people to Ezra's tragedy are powerfully portrayed. Everyone has a story to tell if you have the compassion to find out. The way in which Ezra is treated by different people, especially Toby, defines the meaning of true friendship. The people who treat you `normally' no matter the circumstances.

The story has a profound feeling of karma about it. The use of the Panopticon stressed the idea of a personal prison, in this case it can be viewed as the barriers we place around ourselves, escape from this self imposed prison is via personal reflection and character development. The very foundation of Severed Heads, Broken Hearts.

The story flows beautifully, although the pace does slow down about 2/3 of the way through, this does allow for contemplation on the points I have already made regarding personal reflection and individual character development. The whole aspect of reading subjectively coming into force.

A deeply thought provoking book proving that the only person responsible for the direction your life takes is YOU.
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on 6 August 2015
Dont take to much notice to my star rating as the book was more than ok! Where to start it took me two times to read this book the first time i read a quarter of it and give up the second time i started from the beginning and finished it last night. I will tell you the problems i had with it first and then what i liked about it i will also refer to other books for young adults to help me get my point across! I read this book after read ketchup clouds and as ive read quarter of the book twice i must also mention noggin which is the book i finished before picking up this one for the second time. Complicated i know but that was the sort of problem i had with this the story confused me as if it did not know quite where to go. I must admit to feeling lost in what the story was really about and whether what was talked about was actually worth being made into a story. I struggled to get a feel for the book unlike ketchup clouds where i felt straight away the plight within the plight of the story and also noggin where the plight was so obvious and made me feel apathy from the start. Ok now my resolution after reading it all the way through my many problems with it. The story was very well written and there was some nice ideas thrown about also good references to pop culture and the like. It was also quite light even with the sad subjects it was dealing with such as loss and grief! And the end was very well done which made it worth reading a second time. Ive also bought this writers second book as i do like her style and want to see how she develops things in her next book. So three stars to severed heads and broken hearts!
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on 27 June 2015
In 'Severed Heads, Broken Hearts' we're introduced to Ezra, an all-star tennis player, popular jock, and all-round mister nice guy at school. Everyone knows him, everyone loves him, and everyone wants to be him. That is, until a car accident wrecks his leg.

Overnight his athletic career is in ruins and his popularity takes a nosedive, with his 'friends' ditching him faster than you can say 'this seat is taken'. Choosing to mix with the misfits of the school (i.e. people who have more than one interest, aren't afraid to be different and can hold a conversation without inserting 'like' after every other, like, word) Ezra tries to find his place in this new world order. And along with new-girl-with-a-mysterious-dark-secret-she-won't-reveal Cassidy Thorpe, they're set for a whole bunch of movie-style 'adventures'.

And that's pretty much it as far as the plot goes. Or at least, that's what it feels like, because once you remove the large quantities of popular culture references (in particular Twilight, Harry Potter and Dr Who), it's thin to the point of transparent. I pretty much guessed all the key plot points, including the 'secret' about Cassidy (who is blatantly based on Schneider in my opinion, with her flowing red hair and kookie-girl attitude - just go watch her YouTube channel to see what I mean). But other than her back-story, some half-hearted participation in a debate team and Ezra's accident, not much really happens.

The rest of the characters are either pretty forgettable or so annoying you wish you could forget them (every single member of the 'popular' crowd, a few of the misfits and most definitely Ezra's dog in this reader's opinion). And Ezra's not much better. He's a photo-fit guy. Tall, but not too tall; handsome, but not too handsome; funny, but not too funny... you get the picture? There's no depth and no imagination to this character who we're expected to invest time and emotions in.

His sucks-to-be-me, life-is-hard prose just grates. Presumably it's meant to make us feel sorry for him and make him all the more attractive in the process, but actually it does nothing to help him. I found it difficult to feel an affinity with a guy who's quick to claim he never chose to be popular and doesn't understand why he is; thinks his six-bedroom house, complete with pool and fake waterfall is obnoxious; that his gated-community is excessive; or that he never really studies but still knows the answers anyway. That's not being apologetic or self-deprecating, it's passive-aggressive bragging and a sure-fire way to make people hate you.

The sad part is, I felt all of this after getting to the end of chapter 10 (and there's 33 in total). And I instinctively knew it wasn't going to get any better. The constant references to The Great Gatsby and Twilight become almost laughable. They're referenced 'ironically' according to the narrator (Ezra) but to me they're really not. Schneider literally tries to shoehorn them in at every opportunity (pages 157-158 are particularly cringeworthy reading), resulting in a novel that reads more like a high school book report than a serious novel about teen issues. It's not ironic, it's embarrassing fan fiction.

And I confess to not understanding some of the humour either. There are times when Ezra or one of the others cracks a joke, but whilst they're all laughing I was left thinking: "I don't get it." Perhaps they're jokes you only understand if you live 'across the pond', but it doesn't make for easy reading when you feel the need to re-read something (often more than once) to see where you went wrong. And after the fourth time, you're still left scratching your head in bemusement.

I could go on, but for me it boils down to this - if this book and others of its ilk are to be believed, American high schools must be truly awful places to be. I cannot imagine being a kid in one of these institutions, where it's thought of as wrong if you're an individual and don't want to do what all the 'cool' kids are doing. And sadly Schneider has done nothing to help eradicate that ideal. Her group of 'misfits' are no better. They may not be the 'cool' kids, but they still manage to behave in such a way that you wouldn't want to hang out with them if you were given the opportunity to.

This could have been a very different book, with engaging characters who you really rooted for and cared about. Instead, Schneider has provided us with nothing more than another formulaic high school tale, which is easily forgettable and forgotten.
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on 2 January 2014
Check out my other reviews at [...]

I loved this book. L.O.V.E.D it!
To the point where I really just want to be able to scream that at people but I'm not sure that's appropriate. I was actually really excited when I received this book at work because when I had read the back I thought it sounded ridiculously interesting. So I was happy to find that this book didn't leave me disappointed and actually made me fall in love with it!

Now I am really trying to do a review of this book that doesn't just have me screaming at you all through the blogosphere READ IT!!! Even if that is all my brain is telling me to do right now. So I shall at least try to coherently write down some of my thoughts and feelings on this book; because I really do have a lot of them.

I have to start off by saying that thanks to this book I now have a new author to look out for. As soon as Robyn Schneider releases another book I will be buying it. So I guess I will be virtually stalking her in order to catch any mention of a new book. The cover of the book shows part of a review from Publishers Weekly that says "I couldn't help but think of John Green's novels - I think his fans will eat this up.". As a fan of John Green I do have to agree with that, I did eat it up. I loved the fact I found another author who manges to write characters that actually make me laugh out loud (even if this does get you odd looks from people on public transport).

This book had me laughing right from the beginning. The story of how Toby met his moment of tragedy was so hilarious to me that I choked on the juice I was drinking and almost spurted it out of my nose. I wish this were not true, and my poor burning nostrils at the time also really wished it wasn't true but it was. I think I was guaranteed to love Toby after that, and I did, I really did. I think that was one of the reasons I loved this so much; it gave me so many characters to love. Which is something I really adore in a book, I mean it's part of the reason I will always hold Harry Potter so dear to my heart. While we are talking about loving characters I must say:

Cassidy Thorpe, I love thee.

Cassidy Thorpe had me as a fan the minute she turned up to the debate tournament in a Hogwarts uniform. I could picture it so clearly and I adored her for it. I think the debate group as a whole was one of my favourite things about this book. I enjoyed all their back and forth, their quick witted jokes and the crazy things they got up to. I am jealous that I don't get to go to the Floating Movie Theatre, which are film screenings that are held in secret in different locations of their school. As I was reading it I was just thinking that it sounded ridiculously epic and that I wished I could go.

If I had to say one thing I didn't like about it, it would probably be the end. I saw the revelation coming and it just didn't end how I wanted it to. I guess I was left feeling dissatisfied with it. I think it's partly to do with the fact I am still reeling from the Dexter finale and I just want something, anything, to end how I want it to end!

This book had everything that I needed and the fact it didn't end the way I wanted it to didn't make me love it any less. I would highly recommend it and urge you to all go out and read it. I loved the fact the characters had me laughing from beginning to end, they all had such individual personalities which most books I have read lately have been seriously lacking. If you read or have read it I would love to hear what you thought.

4/5 Stars

P.s. I must admit to over thinking some things way too much when reading a book. Ezra has a poodle named Cooper who he got from his aunt when he was nine and the dog was eight. Now at age sixteen the dog is still running about, chasing rabbits and this bothered me. I'm sitting there thinking that poodles average twelve years and that it is highly unlikely it would be so fit and healthy. This actually bothered me for about another three chapters and I suddenly realised: I THINK TOO MUCH!

Check out my other reviews at my book review blog: [...]
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2014
I'm utterly, totally surprised to see that no one has given this novel only one star. It's my privilege to do so then, or ok, let's make it two. I apologise to the author since obviously a great deal of effort and time and thought has been put into this story but oh my god, was it difficult to read. One of my guilty pleasures, as an adult, is to read young adult novels with the pretense of doing research to find books to recommend to my students and this one was one of the most unbelievable cliches I've ever read.

I don't know what is the appeal of the spontaneous, crazy girl with a secret. It has been used so many times by so many people that I think an average high school girl without any crazy stories would make a much more interesting character. Cassidy was definitely annoying, the type of person who would reject everything because giving it a chance is too mainstream. "The story that she didn't tell" must be obvious to anyone who has watched another novel or watched a movie that deals with a similar character.

The main character Ezra can't deliver the impression he created in the first pages. He doesn't have a strong personality. He is supposedly against that Hollywood movie cliche, the problem high school where the populars are too popular and the others just want to be like them etc, but he fails to see that what will bring that cliche down is smart people like him reacting to it, not sucking up to it.

My favourite character was Toby, with his consistent good manners, and humble yet interesting personality.

This novel promises you a good time in the first 30%, then gets a bit dull until 70% and then becomes painful until the end. I simply wanted to say "get over yourselves" to everyone in the story and start reading another novel.

I'm very disappointed to see that Severed Heads, Broken Hearts turned out to be this way. Otherwise the language was smooth and funny most of the time.
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on 20 February 2014
An amazing ending to an amazing book. I loved the little quotes and references towards Fitzgerald and Shakespeare throughout the book. Schneider has beautifully embedded feeling as she laces her words with emotion and sincerity. I'd recommend this book to anyone who loved Ketchup Clouds or My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher - also wonderful books worth a read
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on 19 April 2014
I read the comments and decided to give this book a chance, as soon as i picked it up i couldn't put it down, its a truly remarkable book showing how things end up being okay, there's always going to be thoughts in the back of our heads like how? Or why? But we can move past them, i want to read more books like this one
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2014
This books begins with promise. The main character, Ezra, tells a shocking tale involving the titular 'severed head' - when he and his best friend at the time sat in the back of a Disney theme park roller coaster and his friend actually caught the severed head of the joyseeker in front who foolishly didn't stay sitting. There's also some laugh out loud humour and suspense created around some of the characters.

Unfortunately, however, after about a third of the way in, most of this disappears. The humour appears to evaporate, the plot becomes predictable and the characters become stereotypes. And they're not just teen stereotypes; they're white upper middle class stereotypes. There's very little sense of the reality that pervades John Green's novels or Rainbow Rowell's.

Some elements are also confusing. In one part, Ezra says, "I learned three things that night: 1) sharing a bed isn't nearly as intimate as making out in a too-small back-seat, 2) inexplicably, some bras unhook in the front, and 3) Cassidy hadn't known I was Jewish." In light of number 3, I took this to mean that they had sex. Except a few chapters later, Cassidy talks about how she's 'saving herself'. Really?

This story has been told by a hundred authors in a hundred ways. This isn't one of the better ones.
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on 14 July 2014
Live this book. I'm a huge John Green fan and think this is a perfect book for fans with similar taste. Reminds me of looking for alaska and paper towns but with a complete New idea. I hope to be reading similar and more of Robyn's books. Such a good ending too :)
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