I can’t tell you exactly why I put The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand on my nook. It was probably on Book Bub, and it probably sounded good. It also probably compared it to Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. But for whatever reason it ended up on my nook, it ended up being the next book up to be read. And it’s the same as Thirteen Reasons Why in that both protagonists are struggling to understand why another character committed suicide.
However, there’s a huge difference in the two books. Thirteen Reasons Why looks at the ways we interact with people, and how something seemingly insignificant to you can make a huge difference in someone’s life. The Last Time We Say Goodbye is about forgiveness.
Lex, the protagonist, is struggling with her brother’s suicide. She believes she could have prevented it. If only she had responded to his text. If only she had been there for him. If only she had paid more attention.
What Lex slowly realizes is that she couldn’t have stopped this by just responding to his text or paying attention or spending her time with him instead of her friends and boyfriend. The novel is Lex’s slow and painful journey to forgiving herself and absolving herself of blame.
I struggled to like this novel at first. Lex is not a likable character. She pushes everyone away. The reader is watching her implode. It’s not easy to witness. There were so many times I just wanted to shake her because I could see she was heading down a path of self destruction.
The reality is that Lex had to decide for herself whether she was going to change. She had to decide whether she was going to talk about her feelings with Dave, her therapist, or take his homework seriously. That’s the frustrating thing about humans–they have free will. And when a novel is done well, the author’s manipulations of the characters are invisible. And they were invisible in The Last Time We Say Goodbye.
Slowly, Lex begins to realize that she needs to be gentle with herself. She needs to forgive–herself, her mom, her dad, her friends, her brother. With forgiveness comes healing. And with healing comes growth. And despite being a flawed character, the reader grows to like and then love Lex. Just as she grows to like and then love herself.
My only criticism of the novel is that everything happens in what appears to be a quick time frame. But this is a novel. The reader doesn’t want to spend years with Lex’s anger and then years more of her blaming herself. The novel does need to wrap itself up in about 60,000 words (give or take).
In the end, I found this to be a more compelling book than Thirteen Reasons Why. I suppose because it explored a sibling relationship. I suppose because the reader doesn’t really get a reason why Ty killed himself–other than the fact that he was depressed. Depression left untreated can kill. And Lex learns that. I think the other aspect of this novel that made it far more compelling is that Hand’s brother killed himself. And despite the fact that she says that’s where her similarity with Lex ends, I suspect the author put a lot of her journey of loss into Lex’s journey. She is real. She is broken. While the novel appears to be about suicide, it’s really about what happens to those left behind.