Book Review: Where It Began by Anne Redisch Stampler

After Gabby’s mother paid a lot of money to make her over, Gabby went from an average girl who flew under the radar to a popular, blonder, better version of herself, she caught the eye of the school’s most wanted (in more ways than one) boy: Billy Nash.  With Billy, Gabby almost felt like the flawless girl she worked so hard to pretend to be.  Things were going well until the night she woke up on the ground next to his totaled BMW, keys in her hand, and not a memory of how she got there.  Now Gabby must try to pull together the pieces of what happened that night and reconcile the fact that Billy isn’t visiting her in her hospital room, and face the fact that things might be forever altered.

Anne Redisch Stampler’s debut novel is an acerbic take on the rich and super-wealthy who live in and around Beverly Hills.  The novel’s unfailingly dry, sarcastic tone helps propel the story, but readers who don’t pick up on it or can’t get past the novel’s ruthless portrait of life in the Three B’s are going to struggle with this one.  It’s a shame, though, because Stampler’s book is ultimately pretty rewarding.

Because the novel’s focus is satirical in nature, readers don’t get very close to many of the characters.  While Gabby’s fairly well-developed, the other characters in Gabby’s world largely fall into stereotypes.  This is intentional in the case of most of Gabby’s schoolmates, as well as with her mother, but a lack of any other sympathetic characters makes it hard to connect with what’s happening on the page.

This lack of character connection is helped somewhat by the fact that Stampler absolutely nails Gabby’s voice.  Her narration is sharp, funny, and quite often heartbreaking.  Gabby’s wry observations about life as an upper-middle-class kid in the land of the super-wealthy are positively scathing, and her tips for survival are both fascinating and totally plausible.  While her obsession with getting Billy back starts to wear on the reader, it never feels like overkill–it’s clear that everything Gabby thinks, feels, and does is intentional on the part of Stampler.  In Gabby’s mind, the only thing that makes her relevant or validates her as a human being is her connection to Billy Nash–so why wouldn’t she do everything in her power to get him back?

Billy Nash is a character who is exceedingly well done, as well.  While it’s clear to the reader, early on, that he’s a total sociopathic douchebag, it’s also easy to see why Gabby fell for him.  The wooing stage of their relationship sets up a nice contrast with her treatment after the accident, and as the action in the story rises to a climax some readers will see coming, Stampler expertly navigates Billy’s total disregard for anyone except for himself.  It’s really, really well done.

The book’s ending is fairly satisfying but doesn’t offer any easy answers.  Readers who stick with the book, despite it’s harsh tone, will find themselves thinking about the story long after they finish the last page.  Recommended for sophisticated readers.

Where It Began by Anne Redisch Stampler.  Simon Pulse: 2012.  Library copy.

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