Friday, July 8, 2011

The End of Everything: A Look at Thirteen In Glaring, Fluorescent Light

Life at thirteen is a jumble of emotions: flying high with excitement, spiraling downward with depression, running headstrong with over-confidence, despairing with never-ending uncertainty. 
In Megan Abbott’s latest novel The End of Everything, main character Lizzie lives the life of every teenager, and yet the life of no teenager. That is the perfection of Abbott’s tale: Lizzie is every girl at the cusp of adolescence, and also a unique individual whose experiences in life are unlike that of any other person. 
She and her best friend, Evie, grew up together as close as sisters. Like so many childhood friends, they are intertwined to almost the point of oneness. They grew up in and out of each other’s houses, with each other’s families, sleeping in each other’s beds, thinking each other’s thoughts. 
And yet at thirteen, Lizzie discovers that she has never truly known her friend at all. One day Evie goes home rather than to the mall with Lizzie, and simply disappears. The police question Lizzie at length, and she diligently tries her hardest to help. A maroon car, secrets hidden in the backyard -- all tips Lizzie uses to help find her friend.
Although the plot sounds like a mystery novel, Abbott’s novel is less mystery and more a portrait of girlhood at thirteen. Abbott captures the confusion and haze of that time between childhood and adulthood with perfect pitch. She expertly describes Lizzie’s loss of innocence and dramatic lunge into womanhood. 
Although The End of Everything is about a single, random, and terrible event, it is also a coming-of-age novel for girls. Abbott’s Lizzie portrays exactly what thirteen is like, when "you don’t know yet what you don’t yet know."
I can’t say that the reading of the novel was entirely enjoyable. It is a story fraught with tension and uncertainty and fear. Additionally, Lizzie as narrator is not always entirely trustworthy. Abbott does this with purposeful precision. As Lizzie is going through the change from child to woman, her truth is our truth as readers. The novel is effective in its authentic voice, even if every thought and action and sentence spoken by the narrator may be poorly chosen and wrong.
Abbott also accomplishes perfecting Lizzie’s voice as narrator by firmly keeping adult story lines on the fringes. Divorce and Lizzie’s mother’s new relationship are all completely side stories, in the way that all adult -- and especially parent -- stories are always side stories to thirteen-year-olds. 
For much of the novel, you as reader have no idea what is and is not real. But neither does Lizzie, and neither do most thirteen-year-olds -- even when they are certain that they do. 
The End of Everything is a dark tale of adolescence and of the shocking occurrences that force children into adults. Abbott spares nothing, laying the darkness out with unerring frankness. Although a coming-of-age novel, the book is far from a YA novel. Rather, it is a look at adolescence through the lens of wise adulthood. 

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