Review: The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Monday, February 2, 2015
Title: The Last Time We Say Goodbye
Author: Cynthia Hand
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 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.

Books that deal directly with grief are hard to review in general -- because mileage varies so wildly depending on the reader, it's hard to accurately predict how others will react. I didn't expect to react so strongly to Hand's contemporary novel about main character Lexie dealing with her brother's suicide. But at about 80%, I was openly sobbing - so hard I had to put it down for more than a minute. If you've lost someone you love, if you had unanswered questions, or lingering guilt, The Last Time We Say Goodbye will likely be painful, but also cathartic. It's a quiet book, full of emotion and heart, but the author doesn't shy away from the dark stuff, or even answer every question.

I lost someone very dear to me suddenly in 2008. It was hard not to feel Ben's presence when reading this because Hand knows grief and she knows it well. Lexie's struggles to reconcile the boy she knew with the boy who killed himself, with the role she played in his life were intimately familiar to me as I watched her struggle and fight and grieve in her imperfect ways. The careful way Hand illustrates how grief affects someone/everyone is first-hand... and accurate. Though no two people will be the same or feel the exact same, I saw shades of myself both in Lexie and in her mom. The key here, is how Cynthia Hand allows her characters to grow and change --- especially Lexie. 

Lexie is a great character, especially for such a tough book. I loved all the messy parts of her -- from her ambition, her drive, her love for numbers, to even her anger at her father. She's not always the best person, but she's trying so damn hard to keep it together I defy you not to feel something for her. Empathy, sympathy... it's all felt so real for me while reading The Last Time We Say Goodbye. And, most notably, the Lexie we end the book with is a far cry from the lost girl verbally wrestling with her therapist. Hand develops her so well over the course of these 400 pages that Lexie is far more than a name on a page.

The romance was understated and, thus,  perfect for this particular book. Though it has a few, this is not a book made for the swoons. Steven makes for a good complement for Lexie, but he's a friend, a part of a support system for more of the novel than he is a boyfriend figure. It would have been jarring had the romance played a larger part because this book is about Lexie and her brother far more than it is a teen love story. He feels slightly underdeveloped compared to Lexie, but then so did Lexie's other friends though I liked that Hand surrounded Lexie with more than just a love interest.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye presents a complicated, imperfect view of life. It doesn't try to idealize the dead, but help the living come to terms with guilt and anger and even forgiveness. It's an emotional ride but Hand makes it more than worth it. It will make you cry but it will also make you laugh and want to text everyone you love to make sure they know it. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like it could be a difficult read, but also a good one. I don't know if I will pick it up, but I will keep it in mind.


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