Either the Beginning or the End of the World

  • Interest Level: Grade 8 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 7

For sixteen years, it’s been just Sofie and her father, living on the New Hampshire coast. Her Cambodian immigrant mother has floated in and out of her life, leaving Sofie with a fierce bitterness toward her—and a longing she wishes she could outgrow.

To me she is as unreliable as the wind.

Then she meets Luke, an army medic back from Afghanistan, and the pull between them is as strong as the current of the rushing Piscataqua River. But Luke is still plagued by the trauma of war, as if he’s lost with the ghosts in his past. Sofie’s dad orders her to stay away; it may be the first time she has ever disobeyed him.

A ghost can’t love you.

When Sofie is forced to stay with her mother and grandmother while her dad’s away, she is confronted with their memories of the ruthless Khmer Rouge, a war-torn countryside, and deeds of heartbreaking human devotion.

I don’t want you for ancestors. I don’t want that story.

As Sofie and Luke navigate a forbidden landscape, they discover they both have their secrets, their scars, their wars. Together, they are dangerous. Together, they’ll discover what extraordinary acts love can demand.

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Interest Level Grade 8 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 7
Genre Young Adult
Copyright 2015
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Lab ®
Language English
Number of Pages 200
Publication Date 2015-10-01
Text Type Fiction
BISACS YAF052000, YAF046000, YAF019000
Dewey [Fic]
Dimensions 6 x 9
Lexile 560
ATOS Reading Level 3.9
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 178198
Accelerated Reader® Points 7.0
Features Author/Illustrator biography, Author/Illustrator note, Awards, Reviewed, and Starred Reviews

Author: Terry Farish

Terry Farish has been writing about refugees and immigrants for many years, informed by her early work for the Red Cross in Vietnam. She is also the author of Either the Beginning or the End of the World, and she lives in Kittery, Maine.


  • Julia Ward Howe Book Awards Finalist, Commended, 2016
  • Maine Literary Book Award, Winner, 2016


The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Give this to readers who enjoy sophisticated literary prose and a narrative where love is as strong and complex as the many forces that work against it.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


“[This book] moves quickly with well developed characters and fluid dialogue. Farish has written a thoughtful and lyrical novel. Teens desiring a higher work of literature will not be disappointed while reading this.”—VOYA

The Horn Book Magazine

“This story is about a search for emotional and cultural identity and, equally, about the effects of war and trauma . . . but, as the fitting title suggests, what appears to be an ending (of a life, of a relationship) could, from another perspective, be the start of something hopeful.”—The Horn Book Magazine


“With evocative language and imagery, and a wandering, internal narrative, this quiet novel examines the intersections of love and war in a family’s history.”—Booklist

School Library Journal

“Farish’s writing is haunting. . . . An excellent choice for readers seeking a less than neatly packaged love story or a glimpse into the complicated lineage of war-torn areas.”—starred, School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

“Farish spins an atmospheric plot with lyrical language. Readers willing to take their time will enjoy this earnest cross-cultural meditation on love and family.”—Kirkus Reviews