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Review: Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

A teen’s world comes crashing down in this compulsively readable YA debut that’s as literary as it is commercial.

Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving—and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.

As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?

As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex...and that nothing about her life is what she has imagined it to be.

Winston High is home to the elite Wildcats; home to the overly privileged, spoiled, cosmetically perfect teens, which are living a life that is beyond the average high school student. If you were given the opportunity to sit with the cosmetically perfect bimbos and water polo players on the rolling lawn at lunch away from the ordinaries, would you? Absolutely, yes. There is no alternative to the perfect situation. 

Gabriella Gardiner’s entire life dream involves Winston School and dating Billy Nash. When a complete cosmetic transformation from her self-indulging mother takes place, Gabby is not surprised to realize that is all it takes to enjoy the life of the perfect people. With two best friends who do not understand, a mother whose only beliefs are in physical appearance and material values and a father who keeps his nose down and a chilled margarita in hand, Gabby’s options for moral support are limited. Gabby is not only living the dream, she is the dream. She is head of the decorating committee on Student Council, ability to sit on the rolling lawn with the over-privileged kids, and Billy Nash’s girlfriend; the complete package and complete title. Simply nothing else matters.

When one night of partying leads to Billy Nash’s Beemer wrapped around a eucalyptus tree and Gabby waking up with a bashed in head with car keys in hand; life as the cosmetically perfect does not seem all that perfect anymore. Gabby is forced to realize who her true friends are after months of isolation in the hospital with a bad case of trauma inflicted amnesia and no one with any real answers. Her only real source of outside contact is her mother, who is only focused on sneaking away to buy as many cosmetic products as possible in a vain attempt to keep Gabby’s artificial beauty from being permanently tarnished. 

Gabby is telling anyone who will listen that she does not remember anything. No one seems to believe that this could possibly be true, how could she defend a boyfriend who has disappeared from her life since the accident and friends who are nowhere to be found during her recovery? Once released and home for a proper recovery, Gabby is face with a windstorm of legal issues and therapists who are all determined to get Gabby to tell the truth that she “cannot remember,” no matter how hard she tries. Once Billy resurfaces and tells her to keep quiet at all costs, all seems right with the world again. It is not until Gabby’s three best friends reveal to her that Billy is the true scum bag that they have been claiming all along because he is the one who crashed the Beemer and planted the keys in Gabby’s hand while leaving her unconscious and stranded at the scene of the crime.

This novel demonstrates the ultimate ways in which peer pressure that occurs during a teenager’s adolescent years can take complete control over one’s life decisions. Gabby is a very talented artist and kind hearted person who recognizes who her true friends are, but is blinded by the shining light that is illuminating the “popular kids” and their over privileged lifestyles. The only morals and values that her mother conveys is that natural beauty does not cut it and finding the “appropriate” man to be with and college to attend depends on what is socially acceptable. Without any real guidance or parental figures to guide Gabby, she is left to the deceiving hands of her peers and her surrounding upper-class society that does not leave any material value untouched. 

I recommend this novel to any teenage or young adult reader who enjoys a novel that they can relate to based on their age or personal experiences growing up. High school is one of the most difficult transition periods for most adolescents, and Gabby Gardiner is a depiction of the typical teen girl looking for something more than just fitting in, social acceptance. In my opinion, Anne Stampler’s novel demonstrates how most teens do not recognize any boundaries when working to socialize with their peers, and when attempting to make what is considered the ‘right’ decision. 

Gabby is forced to take on all of these challenges at once while dealing with amnesia, friends who are trying to hold back their opinion out of respect, and parents who are too self-absorbed to truly care or attempt to understand; an experience that no person should have to go through. I became very frustrated with Gabby’s naivety and also her lack of self-preservation when it came to communicating and dating Billy Nash. On the other hand, it took me half way through the novel to realize that the decisions Gabby made she made out of her own personal desires, but without any guidance or anyone to truly talk to, she was making the worst decisions of all. How can one truly find the answers to a situation that everyone is either hiding the truth, or only telling you what you want to hear? Gabby is the poster girl for deception and manipulation, so how will she pull herself from the dangerous depths of the cosmetically perfect and polo playing peers that only pretend to have her best interests at heart?

Reviewed by Nicole Williams

Book Information
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 2/19/2013
Pages: 369

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