Title: The Last Time We Say Goodbye
Publisher: Harper Teen
Rating: 4.25/5 (What? I couldn’t decide between 4 and 4.5!)
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.
I was scared to read this book. Sure, I had really liked Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly trilogy, but it’s always scary to read new books because what if you don’t like them as much? And I was terrified of the subject matter – this book deals with the fallout of the suicide of the protagonist’s younger brother. It’s guaranteed to be emotionally brutal, and even though it was, it was in the best way possible.
I was especially worried at the beginning because I had DNFed a similarly-themed book a few weeks earlier (Playlist for the Dead, also about a protagonist dealing with a suicide). What if this was too much too soon and I got bored and similarly unattached? I also had trouble connecting with the protagonist, which was a big problem I had with Playlist. I kept going, though, and the story quickly sucked me in, even if I still had trouble deciding what I thought of Lex, the protagonist.
This book is about Tyler’s suicide and how everyone else deals with the aftermath, particularly Lex. She isn’t dealing with it well, and it can be painful to see her slow but necessary journey away from that pain. It’s definitely more of a character-led story than a plot-led one, but that was what this book needed to be. There was a little mystery surrounding the Tyler’s feelings and what exactly happened with Lex on the painful night in question, but the characters were definitely the focus.
As I said, I struggled with Lex. On the one hand, I loved how different she seemed as a YA protagonist – she loved math, loved the beauty and complexity of it, and was in all honors and AP courses. She struggled with the more creative side of things, with words and analyzing books in English class. She wore glasses and was a happy member of the math club (well, before her life was derailed, of course). But she was also very hesitant to accept help from other people. She resented therapy, constantly pushed away her friends, and generally isolated herself. I understood all that, and I appreciated the fact that her resentment of therapy didn’t extend to having an incompetent therapist – he really seemed good for her, even if she didn’t realize it; however, I sometimes struggled to connect with Lex as a result. She wasn’t perfect and that made me bristle at her sometimes, but for the most part she interested me and pulled me into the story anyway.
Because Lex spent much of the book pushing most people away, there were only a few people we really got to connect with. I loved Lex’s childhood best friend, Sadie, who came back into her life when Lex needed her most, and I would have loved to know more about her and her family, even though it wasn’t her story that we were focusing on. Tyler was also a very complicated and interesting character, even though he was only seen in flashbacks and memories. Steven, Lex’s ex-boyfriend, and a few other secondary characters got some fleshing out, but Lex’s two female friends from before felt very flimsy to me because we never really learned who they were since they weren’t a big part of Lex’s present life. I had trouble keeping them apart, and that was a bit frustrating.
The Adult Situation
It’s no surprising that Lex’s parents aren’t the biggest presence in her life right now. Her father left their family years ago and she harbors a lot of hate for him, and that mixed with his few appearances makes him the slighter parental presence. I appreciated where their relationship was going at the end of the book, though, so I didn’t mind too much. Lex’s mother was around a lot more physically, but she was even more broken than her daughter, at least on the outside, and Lex was forced to step up and be there for her mother too much. Again, though, her character was making strides at the end, and I really appreciated that.
There isn’t much of a romance, and I loved that. Lex needs to fix herself and learn how to handle her own life before she thinks about romance. We get some flashback scenes with her ex-boyfriend and he has a minor presence in her present life, and things might be happening at the end in the romance department (I won’t say whether it’s with Steven or not, though, so no spoilers), but romance doesn’t play a big part in the book because Lex doesn’t really have the room in her life to deal with during the events of the book, and I really appreciated that.
I was pretty emotionally battered by the end of the book. It didn’t make me cry as much as Second Chance Summer and some other super-painful books, but that’s like saying “Oh, it was only a 9 on a 1-10 scale, not a 10.” There were definitely tearing rolling down my cheeks as I got to the end and saw the full arc of Lex’s relationship with her brother, a journey that was just as important as Lex’s personal struggles.
Well, it’s obvious that Hand can write more than just interesting angels. I’m definitely in for anything she writes in the future, even if I think it’s going to emotionally wreck me.