Life is full of new beginnings. Big or small, good or bad, they’re everywhere: the start of an academic year, getting a new job or even just waking up in the morning. And yet, despite the possibilities they can bring, when I hear the phrase ‘new beginnings’, I don’t think of the positives. In fact, I’m not even sure I think of ‘new beginnings’ at all. What I actually think of is change and personally, that terrifies me.
Change, just like a new beginning, is everywhere, but it doesn’t seem to hold the same connotations of positivity or a fresh start. Whereas a new beginning feels like something exciting that we consented to, change reeks of the unknown and can often come suddenly through bad situations we neither wanted nor asked for. And so, with this in mind, the first book that I thought of was not a particularly happy one, but instead The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss – a novel about a teenage girl dealing with the sudden loss of her mother in the year after her death.
Like many other children’s books, there’s so much adults can learn and take away from it
I first read The Year of the Rat in the space of a day, and I loved it. Although there are plenty of Young Adult novels that are centred around angsty teens plagued by tragedy, there was something so beautifully raw yet simple in the way Furniss wrote about grief that I hadn’t read in other Young Adult books before. I’ve always thought the nature of this sudden and tragic change, which Pearl, the protagonist of the story, predictably struggles to deal with, is explained perfectly when she says: “I always thought you’d know, somehow, if something terrible was going to happen… like when the air goes damp and heavy before a storm… But it turns out it’s not like that at all.” The change in itself is awful, but it’s the unexpected element, the lack of warning signs, that makes it worse.
And yet, change isn’t always tragic or terrifying. Yes, it can sometimes be sudden and unexpected – but sudden and unexpected doesn’t necessarily mean bad either. And once I started thinking about change and new beginnings from this angle, I realised that the books I thought of were not ones tainted with tragedy and fear, but instead filled with hope and excitement for the future. In fact, what I thought of most was actually a children’s book by Lauren Child, called Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now. The final book in the Clarice Bean series, Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now follows Clarice as she goes through some major changes in her life. Her best friend, Betty Moody, moves to America, her entire house is renovated after her sister accidentally floods it, and a new student arrives in place of Betty Moody.
The majority of change is good, exciting and, most importantly, a new beginning
Although Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now is primarily written for small children, like many other children’s books, there’s so much adults can learn and take away from it. Due to the book’s stream of consciousness-like nature, Clarice’s worries and increased anxiety throughout the story are so relatable, even as an adult, especially regarding “Worry No. 3: Change”. And so, (spoiler alert) when everything is wrapped up in the epilogue, I found it surprisingly poignant.
Clarice’s acceptance of change, as well as her newfound excitement for the future and the new beginnings that come as a result, is something so many adults have yet to fully grasp. It’s comforting to see it written down so simply. Change does happen, and it can be scary, but no matter what, you will get through it and you will be okay.
Even though change can be sudden and terrifying, and can lead us into a grey area that’s foreign and unknown, the majority of change is good, exciting and, most importantly, a new beginning. Yes, new beginnings can be nerve-racking and scary too, but they can also be fun and beautiful. It’s not so much the new beginning itself that scares us but fear of the unfamiliar – we worry about things that haven’t even happened yet. Of course, this is a completely natural reaction, but as Ruby Redfort, Clarice Bean’s hero, says in The Ruby Redfort Survival Handbook – What To Do When Your Worst Worry Comes Your Way: “So you want to know what to do about the worst worry you never even thought to worry about?… The trick is – don’t lose sleep over it, kid.”