The Last to Let Go

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
The Last to Let Go Book Poster Image
Teen tries to hold family together in sad, beautiful story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information on domestic violence, why people stay, cycles of abuse, and what it does to families. Author includes resources for those seeking help in domestic violence situations. Details on how the criminal justice system works. Science of snow and snowflakes explained. References to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Dante's Inferno.

Positive Messages

When things fracture in relationships, you can still find ways to reconnect with those you love. Sometimes you have to expand your definition of family to those who support you, even if they aren't related by blood. It's OK to find moments of happiness during tough times. You don't need to be the person who holds everything together; it's OK to show vulnerability and ask for help.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All  characters in the book are good people doing their best during a difficult time. Jackie and Ray step in to help the Winters kids when their mom goes to jail. Dani and Tyler are Brooke's honest, supportive friends who force her to come clean with what she's going through. All the Winters kids have emotional issues, but they try their best to be there for one another -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not -- despite their trauma. Caroline has made many mistakes in the past, but has learned from them and tries to help break the cycle of silence within her family.

Violence

Deals with domestic violence, but it's never described in deep detail. A man is stabbed to death. A possible suicide attempt by overdose is discussed, but it's unclear whether the persona actually tried to kill himself. Flashback scenes of domestic violence (hitting, shoving, breaking things) and emotional, verbal abuse. Homophobic verbal bullying.

Sex

A few of the characters have girlfriends. Some kissing and caressing in a few scenes.

Language

Infrequent swearing, including "hellhole," "f--k" and variations, "s--t" and variations, "God," "damn," "dammit," "ass," "a--hole," and "pissed."

Consumerism

Few products mentioned by name and only for scene setting, including Scrabble and Lucky Charms.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two adult characters smoke cigarettes but say they want to stop. Teens drink at a club and get drunk. Older teen seen drinking with a friend. Teens have champagne on New Year's Eve.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Last to Let Go is about a teen girl, Brooke, trying to hold herself and her family together after their mother kills their father. The story details the many ways domestic abuse affects people for the rest of their lives. Author Amber Smith (The Way I Used to Be) sets the aftermath of the killing against typical teen issues that become anything but typical given Brooke's situation. The story doesn't present the abuse graphically and mostly deals with the emotional trauma of abuse. Brooke navigates a new school, new friends and romance, and her first job during the hardest time of her life. Characters drink and smoke a little, and swear infrequently ("s--t," "f--k," and "a--hole"). The book provides many good discussion points, including issues around domestic violence, honesty in relationships, and what makes a family.

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What's the story?

In THE LAST TO LET GO, author Amber Smith tackles the tough subject of domestic abuse and its effect on families. The story centers on Brooke, a high school junior, who is reeling from her dad's death at her mother's hands. Before the killing, Brooke's family was already fractured internally due to years of domestic violence, but after her dad's death, all the cracks are exposed and things start to come apart. With her siblings dealing with the trauma in their own ways and her mother in jail, Brooke works hard to hold herself and the family together. She starts her new academically rigorous high school, confronts her sexuality, and gets a job, all while trying to get through emotionally to her mom, sister, and brother. Eventually, it is all too much for a 16-year-old to manage, and Brooke must face the truth of her situation and how her family's past has shaped who she is.

Is it any good?

A teen girl struggles to keep her family together in this sad but engaging look at the ripple effects of domestic violence. The story has little plot and is slow in places, but author Amber Smith's beautiful, lyrical writing elevates The Last to Let Go above standard YA fare. Brooke Winters, the 16-year-old at the center of the story, is hard to get invested in as a character. Though her pain of being an outsider is well presented, she is so closed off from herself and others, it can make for frustrating reading. Her progression from self-absorbed to self-aware teen is an important part of the book, but it isn't always an enjoyable journey to follow. Along those lines, her mother never explains her decisions or her actions, only saying to Brooke things along the lines of "You wouldn't understand." The story would have been better served by showing more of the mom's perspective. Her actions greatly influence the story but the reader never gets to know her.

Smith effectively shows how difficult it is to help people in abusive relationships, the long-term effects of abuse, and how it can be handed down through generations. Each Winters sibling has a different response to and different personal issues resulting from living in an emotional war zone for so many years. The ending isn't tied up in a neat bow, but it is satisfying and realistic.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Deep, unhappy secrets are a common theme in young adult books and movies, such as The Last to Let Go. Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of teen life?

  • Have you ever put on a false front when meeting new people? Why? Does the real you come out eventually? Should you be making friends who wouldn't like the real you anyway?

  • How do you cope when you feel like you have too much on your plate, such as school, activities, and family obligations? Do you think you're a person who can handle a lot or does it stress you out?

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