Book Review: “Everything is Just Beginning” by Erin Bartels
I found I was quickly turning pages in this latest release from Erin Bartels. I’ve found all of Bartels stories convicting and fascinating realistic portrayals of people. “Everything” is set in the late 1980s, I period I’m especially fond of, a time that seemed less complicated than the present. And it’s a story with a background centering on the music scene which I’ve always enjoyed.
Michael is an angry young man. He’s grown up without a father, a mother who has struggled to settle and he’s missed out on a lot. He carries a lot of hurt, bitterness and anger, struggling to get out of the victim mindset that traps us all at times. He’s now living with his uncle, Mike, who happens to look just like his father who is similarly angry, deeply hurt and struggling to make ends meet.
Michael wants to be a rock star and he plays in a deadbeat band with others who don’t really want him in the band. There’s not a lot going for Michael when we first meet him. He attends a New Year’s party across the road at the Wheeler’s house, having taken his uncle’s invitation. The Wheeler’s happen to be extremely wealthy as a result of Deb, mother and wife, being a famous singer and Dusty, her husband, a well-regarded producer in the music industry. They know who’s who of the industry.
And their daughter is 20-something, Natalie, who is also extremely talented musically. And blind from birth.
There’s something about this family that is especially wonderful. And I loved how Bartels portrays them. They seem to have this endless supply of love, compassion and the ability to forgive. I just wanted to hang out at their place as I turned the pages as their love is simply captivating. It is what has stayed with me since finishing the book. It challenges me to be seek more of this myself, from God, as it really can be the greatest force to heal and transform. Bartels shows us how.
Deb Wheeler is dying of lung cancer. She can’t wait to get to heaven to hang out with Jesus. She retired prematurely from releasing music because she struggled with the ‘me-focus’ it brought with it. Having spent some time in rehab herself in the 1960s, she devoted herself to visiting rehabs and helping people. She realised she could be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. She took her young daughter, Natalie, with her. This had a huge impact on Natalie, who being blind, never appeared to suffer from ‘woe is me’ syndrome as a result of her disability. Unlike Michael, who can’t seem to get over himself.
Michael was often hard to like. Once again, Bartels helps us see that that’s not what’s so important. Love goes beyond ‘like’; it gives and accepts and forbears and forgives. And Michael gradually heals.
It’s always hard in fictionalised settings as healing and transformation is fast-tracked when in fact it usually takes years and years for it to bear fruit. But I liked how Bartels dealt with Michael and Natalie’s friendship: could it be something more, was music really their only connection? Could Michael really allow Natalie to love him? Could Natalie love Michael, this angry young man? We’re reminded that we all are works-in-progress and we’ll take steps forward and steps backward. Forgiveness is hard and it’s an everyday thing, not a once-off one. I appreciated how Bartels leaves the situation between Michael and his dad, Steve.
And then there’s the music. Bartels shares many lyrics that I’m guessing her husband may have written, per the Author Note at the end. We see the wonder and beauty of simply listening to music. The Wheeler’s “Listening Room” was a very special place for just that. The Saint Andrews Hall gig is great and I felt I was there in the front row cheering “Intersection” on, getting irritated with Michael as he tried to satisfy the crowd rather than playing the songs their way.
This is a special book for me and one that will linger long. Well, especially Deb Wheeler. I want to be more like her when I grow up.
I feel very blessed to have received an early ebook copy of this marvellous story from Revell via NetGalley. This had no bearing on my review.