Friday, 13 February 2015

Book Review: The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand.


Product details:
Publisher: Harper Teen.
Hardcover, 400 pages.
Release date: February 10th 2015.
Rating:  3½ out of 5.
Ages: 13+
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 There's death all around us.
We just don't pay attention.
Until we do.


The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn't look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she's just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that's all she'll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there's a secret she hasn't told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex's brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn't have to be real to keep you from moving on.

From New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand, The Last Time We Say Goodbye is a gorgeous and heart-wrenching story of love, loss, and letting go.

 An insightful and thought-provoking exploration of guilt and grief in the aftermath of a teen suicide, Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye introduces us to the world of nerd-and-proud of it, Alexis, almost two months after the suicide of her sixteen year old brother, Ty. 

Let me put it out there: I do not tend to gravitate towards issue-laden YA contemporary fiction. When it comes to YA fiction, books on teen suicide are not right up there on the list of books I want to read. The same goes for YA Cancer books. Those, I don’t read at all. The truth is, I prefer by YA contemps that are pure romantic escapism, preferably with sunny summer beach settings. I guess that’s partly my explanation as to why I’m giving this book – which is an intricate, beautifully written and very real portrayal of grief – a 3.5 rating. Books about death are just not really my thing. The only reason I read this one is because I’m a fan of the author.  Cynthia Hand is on my auto-read list, as is Gayle Forman, which is why I read her latest one – I Was Here – which deals with the same devastating topic of teen suicide.

Books such as these are important. Teen suicide happens – it happens all too often these days.  As such, it goes without saying that The Last Time We Say Goodbye is not an uplifting book: rather it left me feeling entirely drained and even a little teary.  I guessed from Hand’s portrayal of grief in her Unearthly series – very raw, real and emotional – that she was writing from a place of first-hand-knowledge, and she explains her background story here, in her authors note. That made me tear up a little too, I must admit. 

So, this isn’t a book that you’ll want to read if you’re feeling a little gloomy. It’s not going to cheer you up at all, as you might have already guessed.

Alexis (Lex to her friends, and her therapist) is working through her grief with the help of said therapist, Dave, who suggests that she document her thoughts in a journal. Extracts of this journal are dotted throughout the book, along with Lex’s recurring dream in which her brother dies every time. She can’t save Ty, and increasingly Lex suffers from panic attacks, because no matter how it might seem on the outside, she’s just not coping.  I’m not a huge fan of dream sequences in books; for me they don’t add much to – and they always slow down - the flow of the plot.  And the plot here ponders. If I have one main criticism of this book, it’s that The Last Time We Say Goodbye can be slow moving at times. Added to the heavy subject matter, the slow moving plot can make this book a sometimes bit of a trudge.

I didn’t really identify with the character of Lex, but I did feel for her as she navigated her post-Ty life. This girl has a lot to deal with: not just the rigours of school, but also a mother who is leaning heavily on alcohol while declaring at regular intervals that her life is now over because she has nothing left to live for. Uh, what about your daughter?  And a dad who is a little AWOL living his new midlife-crises cliché life. Added to that, Lex has pushed away her friends, and has dumped her boyfriend – the ever understand Steven, a fellow nerd, and a seemingly perfect match for Lex. Why did Lex push Steven away? Well, that’s linked to her brother’s death. Lex’s own actions on the day Ty took his life area  huge source of guilt for her, and maybe that’s why she keeps seeing her brother everywhere she goes, everywhere she turns: in her car, in his bedroom, and always in her dreams.

But Ty is not really there, right? Lex doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she can clearly see Ty; she can smell his cologne. Ty is dead, and now Lex needs to let go, she needs to move on; because her brother has already said his goodbyes.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye, is touching and thoughtful, while Hand’s portrayal of teen suicide and the devastation it leaves in its wake, is truly written from the heart.

7 comments :

  1. Vickie Snider Hartwell13 February 2015 at 01:42

    This sounds like something I need for my classroom!

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  2. It sounds quite similar to Ketchup Clouds (the whole guilt and seeing the victim everywhere), but more sorrowful. I think teen suicide books always toe the line between being too sad and making light of a bad situation - as you said, suicide is a huge issue that affects so many people. It's perhaps not a book that I'll be picking up in the middle of a depressing winter!
    Beth x

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  3. Yeah, definitely not an uplifting read! I read this one because I'm a fan of the author but it's definitely not a subject I gravitate to. This one is pretty heavy/sorrowful - nothing in the way of romance either really to lighten the load.

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  4. ChristinaBookAddict13 February 2015 at 12:57

    Fantastic review. Like you, I felt this book was really well-written, but just so darn sad. I was sad for days after reading this book….it really stuck with me. I recently have received a lot of other books focusing on death and suicide and after reading this one, I think I need a break for sometime. Like you, I am drawn to contemporaries set at the beach. :) Anyway, I also teared up a bit when I read the author's note. So sad!

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  5. I loved this one. I cried so much toward to the end, and even harder when I read the author's note. But strangely, I didn't find it really depressing. I did find it uplifting how it showed her starting to move forward and heal by the end. But I think I love even more that you and I came away with something different from it---definitely a sign of a well-written book! Great review, Leanna!

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  6. Yeah, I find this kind of book really heavy going. Summer contemps are definitely more my thing. I'd like to find another book like Nantucket Blue. Such a joyous reading experience! :)

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  7. It is definitely a well written book - and I teared up too. Totally! I just find these books very heavy. I'm all about the more lighthearted YA contemps! :)

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