All Booked Up: The Last Time We Say Goodbye

Lauren Toneatto ’21, Life & Style Columnist

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Cynthia Hand writes an illuminating novel that speaks about grief, the struggles of moving on and how to continue living life after a death. The Last Time We Say Goodbye pulls at heartstrings starting on page one, all the way to the last chapter.

Lex is struggling to cope after her brother, Tyler, committed suicide. She’s seeing a therapist, but is refusing to open up; distancing herself from her friends and turning to her family isn’t an option worth considering, especially since they are part of the reason Tyler took his own life in the first place. Lex is a straight A student and should be enjoying her senior year; yet, even getting into her first-choice college isn’t enough to make her excited for the future. Instead, she’s constantly seeing the ghost of her brother and is haunted by the text message she received – but never answered – just hours before his death.

Hand’s writing is impeccable. It’s relatable, sincere and filled with emotion. The novel switches between direct narration from Lex and letters she writes, originally used as a therapy exercise to help cope with her brother’s death. I particularly liked reading the letters. They gave insight into Lex’s thoughts and feelings that she wasn’t quite ready to share with anyone but herself. They’re personal, gripping and guilt ridden but overall, they’re extremely hard to put down once you start reading. It’s enlightening to see a different angle on the main plot. Towards the end of the novel, one particular letter sheds an immense amount of clarity on why Lex cannot go back to her friends, especially her ex-boyfriend, Steven, after what happened to Tyler. It’s a jaw-dropping realization for the reader and Steven, making your heart break just a little bit more.

Suicide is a hard topic to grapple with, especially when you’re reading a book for leisure; however, despite the dark subject matter, I felt myself continually wanting to drop everything and read. Perhaps this is because Hand’s novel centers around more than just this dark subject matter. At the root of the book, it’s really a story about family. After losing her brother, Lex has to decide whether or not she wants to forgive her dad and how she wants to deal with her mother’s change in perspective. Ultimately, it’s interesting to see how she copes given the circumstances she’s in.

Love stories are also intertwined throughout the novel. Before he took his own life, Tyler was happy, or so he appeared, while in a relationship with a girl named Ashley. It’s up to Lex to seek out his mystery girl after finding a final note her brother wrote dedicated to her. She has to set her own emotions aside in order to make Tyler’s legacy live on. Additionally, Lex’s own love story is wrapped up in Tyler’s death. For the majority of the novel, the reader is left thinking how a love as strong as Steven and Lex’s could go south so quickly. These elements of love are nuanced and not overbearing. They don’t take away from the main plot, but rather enhance the messages Hand is trying to get at.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading The Last Time We Say Goodbye. It touches on friendship, family and humanity in ways that almost anyone can relate to. It changes your outlook on life and makes you reevaluate how you’ve been navigating the world.

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