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.
There seems to be a rash of young adult books dealing with the issue of suicide lately – offhand, I can think of Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places, Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes, and, of course, Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye.
I think it’s incredibly important that YA authors are dealing with the rather taboo issue of suicide, especially as it’s something that needs to be talked about, especially among the younger generation. But it’s also a topic that needs to be handled with nuance and discretion – too often, novels on suicide tend to be clumsy or heavy handed. There’s a delicate balance – you don’t want to be too dark, at the risk of inspiring similar feelings in your readers, but at the same time, frivolity is to be avoided due to the risk of undermining and trivializing the issue. Authors also need to avoid vilifying the deceased for what some might consider a selfish decision, without being seen (especially in YA) to be condoning their actions.
All in all, I think Cynthia Hand generally achieves these delicate balances in the book. I will admit to being easily emotionally manipulated, and wept my way through to the end once I past halfway. But this was also due to my own experiences with the issue, and it was actually quite a cathartic experience.
Don’t expect an action packed read – as the reader, we accompany Lex on her journey as she deals with her grief in the aftermath of her brother’s suicide. Her experiences felt authentic to me – for example, the guilt that accompanies those who are left behind, questioning if there’s more they could have done, particularly if the person in question reached out to them prior to their death. Then there’s the way the surviving family members/friends are treated – death usually generates awkward reactions as it is, and people tend to ignore the elephant in the room when the cause was suicide. It also evokes that uncomfortable notion, particularly because most funerals are held at church, that suicide victims end up in hell – which is just awful to contemplate. And of course, the way schools/colleges commemorate (or don’t, in many cases) the deceased, for fear of giving off the appearance of condoning their actions. Pass away in a car accident? A page in the yearbook and a memorial plaque. Kill yourself? We’ll quietly clean out your locker and hope the fuss dies down. Hand elegantly deals with all these issues in a way that really resonated with me.
Lex hurts many of the people around her in dealing with her own grief, which is perfectly understandable, even if it’s hard to witness. While there was also a smidgen of romance in the book, it doesn’t overshadow the main plot, and it deals with an existing relationship, rather than a new bloom of infatuation. I thought it was important that the author emphasized “I understand now that nobody could have saved Ty but Ty. There’s no one else to blame. Not you. Not me. Ty was holding all the cards.”
The book is particularly poignant since the author’s brother committed suicide at the same age as Lex’s brother. I finished the novel feeling incredibly sad – at the levels of despair Tyler must have felt, at Lex’s happier family memories before the tragedy, at the small acts of kindness that can sometimes provide the grieving with closure. But despite the subject matter, I think this slow, contemplative novel was sensitively written, well-handled (pardon the pun) and an excellent addition to the genre.