The Last True Love Story

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
The Last True Love Story Book Poster Image
Offbeat road trip tale shreds barriers of age, background.

Parents say

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational value

Gpa's storyline in The Last True Love Story offers readers a realistic look at the challenges faced by someone suffering from Alzheimer's. There are brief flashbacks to Gpa's time serving in Vietnam and the difficulties of his homecoming during a time of protests against the war.

Positive messages

"The point of living is learning how to love."

Positive role models & representations

Hendrix takes on a huge challenge (and responsibility) in meeting Gpa's emotional needs as they travel. He is constantly patient, understanding, and protective. Corrina, despite working through tough issues of her own, finds and then embraces the common ground she has with Gpa in their shared love of music. This should be balanced against the fact that Hendrix and Corrina stole his mother's car and didn't give more than a passing thought to how their disappearance might worry their parents. 

Violence

There's a fight that lands a punch, and a kick and beer bottles are thrown at Hendrix and Corrina.

Sex

A boy starts a false rumor that Corrina had sex with him, and it's revealed that a man had an affair. Two teens have sex one time, but it's not described.

Language

Strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "pissed," "goddamn," "a--hole," and "bastard," is used casually and regularly in conversation by several of the characters.

Consumerism

Corrina and Gpa bond over their love of music, and she creates playlists of both contemporary music and rock from the '60s and '70s for them to listen to on the trip. Dozens of bands, artists, and songs are mentioned, ranging from Jefferson Airplane, Sam Cooke, and Ella Fitzgerald to the Beastie Boys, Sarah Jaffe, and Hindi Zahra. Stops are made at the usual fast food outlets found along interstate highways.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults drink and smoke, Hendrix and Corrina drink beer one time, and someone gives Corrina a drink that turns out to be mushroom tea.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely (The Gospel of Winter; co-author of All American Boys), is the quirky and poignant story of Hendrix and Corrina, teens who spring Hendrix's grandfather from an assisted living facility, steal a car, and take off on a cross-country road trip. In the early stages of Alzheimer's, Hendrix's "Gpa" wants to return to the place where he married his wife before all memories of her vanish. Trying to keep one step ahead of the police, the unlikely trio uncovers secrets from the past, lessons for the future, and the power of love. There's little sexual content (some kissing and one instance of sex not described) and not much violence (there's a fight that lands a punch). Strong language such as "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and "goddamn" is used casually and often. Music is very much a supporting character in the novel, and the playlists Corrina creates of contemporary and classic rock songs will intrigue young music fans. 

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What's the story?

In THE LAST TRUE LOVE STORY, 17-year-old Hendrix wants to grant his grandfather's wish to visit Ithaca, New York, the place where he fell in love with and married his now deceased wife. Problem is, Hendrix's grandfather suffers from Alzheimer's and lives in an assisted living facility in Santa Monica, California. With help and encouragement from Corrina, a girl he knows from their high school poetry class, Hendrix sneaks his grandfather out of the facility and "borrows" his mother's VW Beetle. Telling no one of their plans, Hendrix and Gpa, accompanied by Corrina and the family dog, Big Humper, set off for New York. Corrina, who was born in Guatemala and adopted by parents with whom she is now in conflict, dreams of being a musician and finding her true place in the world -- a place she thinks may be in New York City. As the road trip unfolds and they try to stay one step ahead of the police now in hot pursuit, family truths emerge and emotions deepen. 

Is it any good?

This is a heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking story of two teens and a grandfather with Alzheimer's who find friendship, first love, and a long-hidden truth on a cross-country road trip. Hendrix (the sweet but slightly nerdy boy) and Corrina (the brown girl adopted by white ex-hippie parents) could easily have been reduced to YA clichés, but their relationships with Gpa and his unique challenges let them evolve into deeply sympathetic and inspiring characters. Author Brendan Kiely's use of music as a bridge across the generations adds an unexpected dimension to the story, and readers are certain to have songs playing in their heads as they read.

Mixing teens and Alzheimer's could be an off-putting storyline to many young readers, but ultimately The Last True Love Story is a rollicking adventure in which an unlikely trio tears down the walls that too often separate people because of age or background.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the choices teens make in The Last True Love Story. Is it ever OK to break the rules to help someone? If what you were trying to do was a good thing, should you still be punished for your actions?

  • Gpa and Corrina bond over their love of music and the playlists she puts together for him. If you created a playlist of songs that represented your life, what songs would be on it? 

  • Do you know anyone with a family member who suffers from Alzheimer's or dementia? How has it affected them and their family? 

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