Published by Henry Holt and Co. on March 2, 2021
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There are two kinds of families: the ones we are born into and the ones we create.
Walk has never left the coastal California town where he grew up. He may have become the chief of police, but he’s still trying to heal the old wound of having given the testimony that sent his best friend, Vincent King, to prison decades before. Now, thirty years later, Vincent is being released.
Duchess is a thirteen-year-old self-proclaimed outlaw. Her mother, Star, grew up with Walk and Vincent. Walk is in overdrive trying to protect them, but Vincent and Star seem bent on sliding deeper into self-destruction. Star always burned bright, but recently that light has dimmed, leaving Duchess to parent not only her mother but her five-year-old brother. At school the other kids make fun of Duchess―her clothes are torn, her hair a mess. But let them throw their sticks, because she’ll throw stones. Rules are for other people. She’s just trying to survive and keep her family together.
A fortysomething-year-old sheriff and a thirteen-year-old girl may not seem to have a lot in common. But they both have come to expect that people will disappoint you, loved ones will leave you, and if you open your heart it will be broken. So when trouble arrives with Vincent King, Walk and Duchess find they will be unable to do anything but usher it in, arms wide closed.
Chris Whitaker has written an extraordinary novel about people who deserve so much more than life serves them. At times devastating, with flashes of humor and hope throughout, it is ultimately an inspiring tale of how the human spirit prevails and how, in the end, love―in all its different guises―wins.
Bantering Books Review
A month has passed since I turned the final page of Chris Whitaker’s glorious novel, We Begin at the End, and I can’t shake the memory of it. It’s a monkey on my back, ever present in my mind, refusing to leave me be.
And I don’t want it to leave me be.
Because the novel changed me. It reshaped me. Whitaker’s tragic story of thirteen-year-old Duchess and her five-year-old brother, Robin, caused me to reshuffle my priorities and be more present in my own life. And for this, I will be forever grateful.
I know the novel is not flawless. It certainly has its critics. Duchess is a bit overwritten, and the depiction of both children is not always age appropriate. The supporting characterization feels a bit flat. I also found it difficult to immerse myself in the California setting, and I would lose my sense of place when the story shifted back to the West Coast from Montana.
But my quibbles are insignificant in comparison to the novel’s beauty. We Begin at the End is masterfully written with stunning, literary prose. The mystery at its core is complex and surprising, and the story, while emotionally devastating, has moments of warm humor and hope.
I sobbed. I laughed. I sobbed some more.
And then I hugged my two boys. Tightly. (To their grumbling dismay.)
Because Duchess and Robin – these two kids broke my heart. Even now, my eyes burn for them as I write this.
For the unfairness of their lives. For their pain. For their resilience and strength of spirit.
For Robin’s undying optimism and willingness to try, try again. For Duchess’s selfless, protective love for her brother.
Mr. Whitaker, thank you. I have been touched, profoundly, by your words and your story.