The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
Published February 10th 2015 by Harper Teen
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.
I’m pretty sure this book drop-kicked my heart out the window. Ran over it and then backed up and ran over it again. Only a few dozen pages in, and I was already teetering on the edge of tears; three different places pushed me over that edge. And in all honesty, if I’d been fully aware of what I was signing up for, I probably wouldn’t have cracked The Last Time We Say Goodbye open at all. But the back cover copy was vague, so here we are. It covers a lot – family, friends, life, loss – and way too much hits way too close to home, though from a different POV, and I just. Ached. The Last Time We Say Goodbye is gorgeous in its prose and delicate in its delivery and it fits together so, so well. Too well, maybe. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pick this up again.
I love how the tone managed to be mourning and emotional but wry at the same time, without overdoing any of it, and the way the tone is able to capture Lex’s character development and journey from numb to understanding, without spelling anything out. Everything is slow and purposeful, information revealed in tiny doses, and though the pieces don’t quite fall together in resounding resolution, the reveal at the ending packed a punch just the same.
The Last Time We Say Goodbye looks at everyone – Lex, Ty, their mom, their dad, Ty’s girlfriend, Ty’s old friends, Ty’s new friends, Lex’s old friends, Lex’s new friends… everyone. There’s a lot of subtle themes at play here, too – so many, but somehow, they work, interwoven with the larger trajectory of the story – and Lex’s relationship with her mom in particular really pulled all the threads together and brought the story forward. We see a lot of different relationships that Lex has with different friends, and they waver at varying times, but her relationship with her mom was this almost tenuous thing at the beginning that we can just about see being built up throughout the story. Theirs was a heartbreaking story, but the way they pulled each other up was bittersweetly heartwarming.
One thing that irked me though? Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that I was bothered enough by the way the author handled a certain forgiveness dilemma. I literally stopped crying when I got to that part. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you don’t owe anyone your forgiveness, and that choosing not to forgive someone won’t taint your character. You aren’t a bad person for not telling someone who hurt you, as well as the people you love, deeply, over many years, seemingly unrepentant until it the situation became grave, and then convenient, that you forgive them. I can’t see that as a negative character trait. The Last Time We Say Goodbye says differently.
And while I really liked the idea of a more mathematically-geared, cooly logical aspect to Lex’s characters, and really appreciated all the references, I couldn’t help but feel like, thought the writing was consistently heart-achingly poignant and subtle across the story, Lex when she made math references felt like a different character from Lex in the rest of the story. It’s not jarring enough to feel like the references were just thrown in for the aesthetic or for the idea of her, but there’s a definite disconnect between Lex’s characters in those two situations, and enough to feel like one part isn’t completely reconciled with the other.
But, Lex and Steven? Cuuuuute. (Also, that reveal? Punch me in the gUT.)
The Last Time We Say Goodbye isn’t without its flaws, but the way the author writes, with the diary entries and the slightly wavering timeline and the way everything fit together – it was heart-aching and so, so lovely, and I’ll definitely be thinking about it for a long while.