At times, when you see a book receiving a lot of hype and praise, you raise your expectations and then unfortunately, the book doesn’t come close to what you were expecting. However, in Chris Whittaker’s book, We Begin at the End, both Jan and I found exactly what we were looking for, a story that made us run through the gauntlet of emotions and made us ever so glad we picked this one up. We both agree it belongs in our top ten list of books we loved……and that title so appropriate was one that gave us a forewarning about what the book contained.
Duchess is a troubled young girl, marked by a life filled with tragedy and deprivation. Forced to grow up too soon In order to survive and take care of her 6-year-old brother, Robin, she’s hardened herself to protect herself from pain. Any softness in her is reserved for Robin, a sweet boy who wants nothing more than a family to call his own.
The bond between brother and sister was touching and their search for belonging is heart-wrenching. These children have known more pain and loss than any person should have to endure at such a young age. Yet, still more tragedy and loss is coming.
This is a murder/revenge tale, that began 30 years ago, and continues to the present. It’s a book filled with pain and violence, but it’s the characters that wormed their way into my heart. All are vividly drawn and have a thread that connects them in one way or another to the tragedy that occurred 30 years ago. This event set a course that changes all of their lives. So much happens in this novel that to talk about the plot would involve spoilers.
But the characters!
– Walk, the small town sheriff, has struggles of his own but will stop at nothing to protect the children and seek justice for them. His best friend, Vincent, has just been released from prison after a 30 year sentence. Walk has never stopped believing in him, while Vincent has never forgiven himself.
– Hal, the grandfather, is a character that reminds me of the ones in Kent Haruf’s novels. He’s a man of few words but deep character.
– Dolly is a woman who knows pain but has a heart of gold. She can break through Duchess’s defenses when no one else can.
– And then there’s sweet Thomas Noble, a young boy who is also an outcast, and proves himself to be a great friend to Duchess.
This is an intricate tale with many surprises along the way that I didn’t see coming. This gripping emotional story took hold of my heart and wouldn’t let go, bringing me to tears more than once.
However, as much as I fell in love with Duchess, I do wish her tough exterior had been more nuanced. Her language and precociousness didn’t always ring true to me as the way a child (or even an adult) would talk.
It took a while for me to get into the story but my patience was rewarded. Once the setting moved to Montana, I couldn’t put it down. This is a book to savor, and one I won’t soon forget. The layers of this story are slowly revealed with a final reveal that was shocking and heart breaking.
This was a buddy read with my friend Marilayve, and it’s one we both highly recommended!
*I received a digital ARC of the book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
*Published March 2, 2021 by Henry Holt & Co
Duchess, poor Duchess, saddled with so much in her young life. She is strength personified and coupled with her deep love for her young brother, Robin, she would go through hell and back to protect and preserve him. Duchess is a hard character, foul mouthed, ready to come to blows, should someone, anyone step into her path who challenges her. She and her brother live a hard life. Their mother has a reputation, and it’s not a good one, but she tries, and her children love her. However, the love of her life, has been behind bars for thirty years, and his crime is one that has split the town in factions of hate.
The characters in this book date back thirty years as Vincent King, the man who started the turmoil, his best friend Walk, the local sheriff, and Star, mother of Duchess and Robin come together in what would seem to be their final confrontation. Amazing characters are woven into this complex story as well. There is Hal, the grandfather of the children, who brings his love and presence into the children’s lives and perhaps can and does provide moments of sanity and peace. There is Dolly, a woman who sees what others can’t in Duchess, and provides for her a safe haven if she will accept it, and there is the very kind, noble, and awesome Thomas, a boy who likes Duchess, and is certainly willing to weather the barbs and insults Duchess throws at him to capture her friendship.
The story is tragic, how one event set in motion so many years ago, defined the lives of so many. It is a tale of heartbreak, of unrequited love put aside for those who don’t believe they deserve love, a story of consuming hate directed at those who could do little to prevent it. The story contains many surprises which keeps the action focused, and the reader’s eyes fully on the understanding one often gains in an all-consuming tragedy that repeats itself over and over.
Truly this is a book to be savored, one that will often bring tears to your eyes, and question why people can be so cruel and unforgiving. Be patient with the story as I found myself very hesitant at the beginning as to continuing.(thank you Jan for telling me to!) It is so worth it to continue this book as it allows us to see so very clearly life can be cruel and seems to have a hidden agenda for certain people. It is how these people survive and carry forth the gist of this beautiful yet tragic book. I definitely recommend most highly this story. It is one not to miss indeed!
Jan and I were so fortunate to have read this one as it touched our heart and souls.
and here’s the author:
Chris Whitaker is the award-winning author of TALL OAKS, ALL THE WICKED GIRLS, and WE BEGIN AT THE END.
He lives in the UK with his wife and three children.