The Beginner's Guide to Living

The Beginner's Guide to Living

Australian Will Ellis, 17 years old, has recently lost his mother to a senseless car accident with a drunk driver. His older brother Adam returns home from Indonesia, his father is only a physical presence, and the three seem to sleepwalk through their lives together under one roof.

Will rejects the platitudes of sympathy funeral-goers extend to him; nothing makes sense anymore. What is the point of life, he wonders angrily. And then the family is invited to dinner at an old friend’s house. Will meets Taryn there, a girl his own age who has no platitudes to offer and who doesn’t tip-toe around him like everyone else does.

Roaming through his empty house one day, Will enters his parents’ bedroom and discovers in the back of his mother’s closet her camera, still loaded with film. He develops it, buys additional film, and sets out on a spiritual/philosophical journey to figure out the meaning of life, armed with the camera and a notebook. His journey takes him to the library to seek out the wisdom of Western philosophers, to Taryn’s sister for guidance in Eastern philosophy, to a dingy house to experiment with drugs, and to even more perilous territory.

Along the way, he records a series of questions in his notebook, beginning with those that reflect his pain: “Why did she die?” and “Is it terrifying, the moment of death?” and evolving into questions reflecting the depth of his search for meaning: “Can a lifetime of searching bring us closer to the truth?” and “What fragment of truth will be mine?”

Will’s grief over his mother’s death is real, his path through pain and confusion leading him to places that are unwise, uncomfortable, even dangerous. Throughout his passage, Taryn remains his compass, offering her own brand of wisdom and comfort. They engage in sex, which the author handles carefully. They use protection, except for one moment of indiscretion, which results in not unexpected panic. In the end, Will discovers, perhaps seeking the meaning of life isn’t as crucial as defining who and what give meaning to his life.

This 221-page book is not for those looking for a quick, light-weight read. Discussions of philosophy paired with Will and Taryn’s relationship mark this book as destined for a mature high school reader. 230 pages Ages 14 and up

Recommended by Jane Behrens, Librarian.

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