The Last Time We Say Goodbye
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: Harper Teen
I got this book from Darkside Books Publisher last month and I could never imagine how much this story would have an impact on me when I first decided to open the first page.
The story is narrated by Alexis, an 18-year-old, and it begins 2 months after her younger brother, Tyler, had committed suicide. The girl blames herself for not seeing the signs earlier and tries to cope with missing her brother deeply, while dealing with a father who’s not always around, an ex-boyfriend, best friends growing apart and a mother that keeps losing track of reality. All this with only a Post-it that Tyler left behind as a last memory:
“Sorry Mom, but I was below empty.”
The book starts with Lex going through therapy and her psychologist, Dave, encouraging her to write a sort of journal to open up, since she doesn’t talk about these things during her sessions, not even with friends or family. After Lex refuses, Dave asks her to write about the first and last times she can remember, a chore she decides to do.
She then starts to remember moments previous to Ty’s suicide and mixes them with what she is living in the present moment. Thus, she remembers her life used to be pretty simple and ordinary until her parents got divorced. That was a very intense moment both in her life and in her brother’s, since the father abandoned them to have a new family with the secretary with whom he had an affair. The mother stays in denial and Tyler, though keeping the appearances, is one of the most affected by it.
Even so, Lex tries to forget the divorce issues by focusing on studies, friends and the new boyfriend. Remembering it all, the girl starts to believe that these attitudes caused her brother’s suicide and she blames herself even more for not having paid attention to him, and only to her own problems. Letting guilt consume her, Lex begins to isolate even more from everyone concerned about her and even gets to see her brother’s ghost at home, an experience that leaves her very worried.
At least I’m determined to be straight about it. My brother killed himself. In our garage. With a hunting rifle. This makes it sound like the most morbid game of Clue ever, but there it is.
It’s a very intense and perfectly written book that deals with grief, missing people and the process of moving on in a way I have never read before. Besides, the author touches delicate topics such as suicide, divorce and families falling apart in such an immersive way that the reader begins to understand to all the feelings the main character has during the process.
While Lex remembers the first and last times, we get to know Tyler’s lovable personality and understand a little bit more about depression and suicide. Lex also, going through this process, goes through a roller coaster of emotions that run from anger with her brother, remorse, skepticism, numbness and a lot of missing him. She then begins to see things from a different perspective and also starts to get to know herself better. It’s a journey of self knowledge of the character that, in reality, is transferred to the reader as another way of learning.
Because of these memories, all the characters end up being very well developed and the reader is able to see the depths of each one of them, mainly in the nuclear family, and how it affects everyone in the environment. In the beginning, I didn’t think it would be possible to get to know Tyler that well, since the narration starts after his suicide, but the author did an amazing job of representing his personality very well, like she did with the disillusioned mother that spends her days crying around and taking sleeping pills so she doesn’t have to face reality.
Lex is, naturally, the most developed character in the book, since the narrative is in first person. The author manages to show all the aguish, guilt and desperation of the girl when she shows us her point of view and what she is thinking while trying to move on. Besides, Lex is a girl from the field of exacts, she loves math and numbers and this is also very well developed in the book. I found it amazing that the author used so many numbers to describe what Lex thinks, an artifact that even intensifies any situation and also borderlines a bit of a disorder the girl might have.
But, personally, the best part of this book was the relationship between the siblings. It’s normal to be used to focus on romantic love on books nowadays, regardless of the genre, and The Last Time We Say Goodbye comes to break this standard and prove that there are other problems and other points of view, other loves. It’s invigorating to leave this standard and see the intensity with which Lex misses her brother and how much she loves him. All the flashbacks build an image of the relationship between them that creates an unbreakable bond between them, even after Tyler is gone.
This book has affected me in a very unexpected way, especially because I was able to see my childhood memories in many of Lex’s, having divorced parents, dealing with friendships and even boyfriends. It was an extremely intense and immersive read that caught me by surprise and made me fall in love with all this family relationship and, mainly, self knowledge that the book develops so nicely.
I think it’s also important to pay a compliment to this publisher for creating such a GORGEOUS edition. The whole book is based on Lex’s journal and Tyler’s Post-it, that’s why it’s all written in blue pen, even the publisher’s skull. Besides, there’s this doodle in the beginning of the book that untangles as the book goes on and Lex gets better, which I though was amazing!
Lastly, I went to Darkside Publisher’s event here in Curitiba and was very glad to know that they created playlists for all the books in the DarkLove collection, including The Last Time We Say Goodbye. I heard the playlist all the time while reading the book and I have to confess that it was a unique experience I recommend to anyone willing to try:
The Last Time We Say Goodbye
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: Darkside Books