Release: February 10, 2015
There's death all around us.When I read Cynthia Hand's Unearthly trilogy in late 2012 and early 2013, I adored nearly every aspect of the story: the plot; the voice of the protagonist, Clara; and even the love triangle, which felt surprisingly believable. But now, three years after finishing Boundless, I most vividly remember Clara's relationships with her family members. Her bond with her mother put a smile on my face, and her love for her brother had me wishing for more strong sibling relationships in YA.
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 mention the Unearthly trilogy because, as you may have guessed, Clara's relationship with her brother mirrors Lex's relationship with hers—but with one crucial difference. In The Last Time We Say Goodbye, the younger brother dies.
The result is a story that, with near certainty, will make you cry. I shed tears over books maybe once per year—and The Last Time We Say Goodbye sneaked in as my tear-worthy title for 2015. I have seen a few reviews bemoan this book as a mere duplicate of other stories about death and grief (although the majority of reviewers I have encountered share my thoughts), but I could not disagree more. I knew from the first chapter that Hand's book would stand out against other books about similar topics, and the rest of the novel proved me right.
The Last Time We Say Goodbye achieves its uniqueness through a plot that absolutely electrifies with its emotion. Not only does Hand show each character's feelings in a way that defies description and cannot be taught, but she also evokes sorrow by contrasting memories of Ty with his current absence. This novel brims with stories of Ty's life—from amusing childhood comments to teenage sibling conversations—which makes the pain of his survivors more stark and striking.
Additionally, the story does not merely focus on Ty's death; Hand also depicts Lex's response to resulting actions—her mother's drinking and despondency, the heartbreaking reactions of others in the community, and more. Each small sadness and major tragedy adds another layer to Lex's grief, building until any chance of recovery seems hopeless. Of course, such deep despair not only evokes emotions of heartbreak, but also makes the protagonist's healing process empowering and inspiring. Lex's path to recovery creates plenty of bittersweet moments and scenes that, in my opinion, are the most tear-inducing of all.
In addition to following this brilliantly-woven storyline of healing, I also loved meeting Lex herself. While she does show dashes of the cynicism I have grown to expect from characters dealing with grief, she also blends in a bit of optimism. Instead of disregarding the words of her therapist, she tries out his tips and listens to his advice—and best of all, she cares for her mother, trying to convince the 44-year-old woman that her life did not end after her son's suicide. Lex is also a math nerd who dreams of attending MIT and developing her own theorem, and her love for the constancy of numbers becomes a comfort as she grows to accept life without her brother. I love reading about intelligent characters—especially ones who pursue STEM subjects, a rarer interest in YA books, and especially ones whose favorite areas of study blend so well into their character growth—and Lex's fascination with calculus had me almost as invested as her complex recovery process.
Between its overwhelming emotions and phenomenal protagonist, The Last Time We Say Goodbye is one of the best novels about overcoming tragedy that I have ever read. I would put it on the same level as Second Chance Summer, my previous favorite (but now tied-for-favorite) story centering around the death of a family member. If you are a fan of emotional contemporaries, please do not pass this one up because the blurb sounds too similar to that of another book. Hand's most recent novel is the best of its kind.