Publication date: February 10, 2015
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 finished this book several weeks ago, but I’m still processing it even now. So here is my attempt to distill it down to what you need to know (other than that you should definitely, DEFINITELY pick this one up):
6. It does not hold back or dumb down death, but it’s also not as depressing as you think.
If you’ve read Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly series, you know that Hand really understands death. She knows how to write about grief and how to shepherd a character through it. With The Last Time We Say Goodbye, Hand gets an entire book to explore how a character comes to terms with not only grief, but also guilt and rationalization and knowing how to laugh again and wanting to save others and how to cope. It’s not all sad, though – the book alternates between flashbacks through her journal writing and present day, where Lex assigns herself tasks to fulfill what she thinks her brother’s ghost wants. That sounds morbid, but it’s actually fascinating and uncovers new layers to the people she knows.
5. Cynthia Hand is brilliant at normal – or as normal as it can be when you see ghosts.
For those of you who are paranormal junkies, you may shy away from this one. Don’t. First of all, this is her subtle quiet writing at its best. You will feel all the feels of the Unearthly series, just in a different context.
Also, there are quite a few moments that feel very otherworldly as Lex is dealing with her grief.
4. It doesn’t pretend parents don’t exist.
One of my favourite parts of the Unearthly series was how much interaction the parents had with the kids in the series – they helped move so much of the story along. Hand understands how much influence our parents exert on us and how they shape us, and she always builds them into the narrative. At the beginning of The Last Time We Say Goodbye, Lex and her mother are both so weighted down by their grief that they can barely move. I felt like they were stuck underwater, living in a slow-motion atmosphere. And Lexi’s father is nowhere to be found. The complexities of Lexi’s relationships with her mother and father are brilliantly maneuvered, and key to how she moves on and how she learns to live again.
3. There’s math nerdery – but it’s not written about in a nerdy way.
I love, love, LOVED that Lex was such a geek about math and science, and how methodically she approached life. Cynthia Hand brilliantly constructed a character who wasn’t at all cold or distant, but who definitely had a view of how life should be. I just loved how weird she was, how much we got to know her, and how much she recognized her own weirdness and never shied away from it.
2. It has one of the swooniest romances I’ve read in awhile.
You wouldn’t – or at least I didn’t – think that the romance in this book would be so charming and swoonworthy. But it is. The love between Steven and Lex doesn’t take up a lot of time in a book that’s definitively about grief – but the moments between them are so powerful in their normalcy, in the little moments of two people who are just right for each other, that I fell in love, too.
1. [semi-spoiler – highlight to read if you are one of those people who doesn’t mind knowing my opinion of parts of the book] It has, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant endings I have ever read in a YA novel.
Look, you might not agree with me. And I sure hope that me telling you this doesn’t bias your view of the ending. But the ending is so circular, so pitch-perfect in emotion and weight and resonance and what matters that I can’t write this review without mentioning it. I put a lot of weight on endings and more often than not, I’m a little disappointed. This one elevated the book and had me at a complete loss for words or thoughts. I was just a ball of emotion.
Book Theme Song:
His ghost is quiet, but we’re crying again
Then I hear you saying while you are here
You are alive, but you are here, you are alive
The Final Word:
It’s hard to review a book that is so much about feeling, but I think Cynthia Hand has pulled off something extraordinary – a book where I didn’t notice structure or writing or even feel like I was reading about a character, but where I was just going through the grieving process with Lex. It really, really hurts – but it’s a hurt that changes you and helps you learn about yourself. Highly recommended for anyone who loves contemporaries or who needs help getting through a loss.
THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE is out now. Have you read it yet? Are you interested in reading it? Have you read Cynthia Hand’s other books? Can you read books that are sad or about grief? Hit the comments and let me know.