The Last Thing You Said by Sara Biren
Published by: Amulet Books
Released: April 4 2017
Read on: April 3 2017
The last thing Ben said to Lucy after the death of his sister, and her best friend was cruel and untrue. It hangs over both of their heads for most of the novel, and while the book is a strong depiction of grief and guilt, there are elements that could have been stronger.
We get both Ben and Lucy’s points of view. Ben is drinking himself to numbness, taking advantage of other girls’ sympathy for him, and trying to deny his feelings for Lucy. We see his thoughts oscillate between wanting to move on from Trixie’s terrible death to blaming himself entirely that he wasn’t able to save her. When Lucy starts to date Simon the Renter, Ben’s jealousy and anger force him to confront some cold hard facts: about himself, his family, and his future.
Lucy hasn’t been able to move on either. But her memories of Trixie are happy, and full of Trixie urging her ‘to be brave’ (especially in regards to taking a risk with Ben). Lucy has made a new friend, Hannah, whose support and compassion help. Her family is also suffering and it’s good to see both Ben’s parents and Lucy’s parents grapple with how to deal with their traumatised children.
I was disappointed that every conversation between Lucy and Ben (up to the final moments, of course) is poisoned and hurtful. It’s hard to like today’s Ben, but Lucy remembers a kind boy, a protective boy, and her loyalty to him is commendable. That does fit with his behaviour today, as he believes he doesn’t deserve Lucy, but I wasn’t convinced he needed to be so awful to her. We do observe him treat other people well, so he shows positive traits too. As well, Ben is fascinated by rocks, and the author uses the idea of inuksuk – a Native American traditional tower of rocks perfectly balanced to create a natural sculpture – as a metaphor for Ben finding the right path. It’s poetic and hopeful.
There is a lot of reference to drinking, smoking and sex, but in context, it works within the confines of grief-addled hearts. Fortunately, Ben’s father realises his actions affect his son, and Lucy’s parents start to listen to their daughter, when she opens up to them. Guthrie, Ben’s best friend, and five year old Emily whom Lucy babysits, add depth to a slow moving story that is reliant on readers’ sympathies and desire to see this pair find their way back to each other.
Thanks to Amulet Books and Netgalley for approval of this advanced copy. The Last Thing You Said is released (in the US on April 4, 2017.
Recommended to readers who like their contemporary sad, but with a happy and hopeful resolution. The romance is halted and there is a lot of communication, but friends are around to make the two be honest. The setting is a small lakeside town, with much discussion around fishing and restaurants which make up Ben and Lucy’s summer jobs.