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The Last True Poets of the Sea

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
The Last True Poets of the Sea Book Poster Image
Emotional story of healing, friendship, family, and romance.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Facts on marine life, shipwrecks, lighthouses. Details on the craft of acting and staging productions. Insight into different types of emotional issues and mental illness, including how they feel to the person experiencing them and treatments. Story is a based on the Shakespeare play Twelfth Night.

Positive Messages

True friendship means being honest and supportive of each other. It can be helpful to talk about your fears and problems. It's OK to ask for help; doing so isn't a sign of weakness but of strength. Take the time to be with your family members and make sure they're OK. The world is a big place and has room for all types of people, no matter how different or broken you feel.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Violet has made some bad decisions and doesn't always do or say the right thing, but she learns how to like herself and to be a good friend, sister, and daughter. Orion is empathetic and kind. He, Liv, Felix, and Mariah accept Violet into their friend group and are good to her. Violet's family loves her even though she isn't always kind to them. Although they have had trouble communicating and dealing with serious problems, they come together to work on their issues. Toby and Frieda are supportive adults who look out for Violet's best interests and safety. The story deals realistically with teens who are gay, bisexaul, and questioning.

Violence

A suicide attempt factors into the story, but it isn't described in detail. An older man grabs a drunk teen and tries to drag her out of a bar when she has second thoughts about going home with him. A character shoves a dog in anger. A girl gets a bad cut on a beach. Teens talk about bullying they've experienced, including one of them losing an eye in an attack. Two characters almost die from drowning.

Sex

Much of the story centers on dating and sexual longing. Violet has a history of using sex to escape her problems. Her flirtatious and sexual behavior are described in detail. A few long, graphic descriptions of kissing and heavy make-out sessions. Characters reference having had sex and talk about specific sex acts.

Language

Strong language, including "f--k" and variations, "shit," "slut," "God," "Christ," "whore," "bitch," "d--k," "dammit," "Jesus," and "ass."

Consumerism

A few brands mentioned for scene setting, including Converse, AriZona iced tea, M&Ms, Coke, Icee, Snapple, Dunkin' Donuts, and Doublemint gum.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen has several flashbacks to frequent alcohol and drug use, including trying alcohol for the first time at age 11 and getting in trouble for being stoned at school. This behavior is not glamorized but is used to show a teen out of control and in need of help. The main teen characters in the story drink together on more than one occasion, with one girl getting drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Julia Drake's The Last True Poets of the Sea is a coming-of-age story about a teen girl coping with her own and her brother's emotional issues. The story is a modern take on William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, with a shipwreck and love triangle featuring prominently in the story. After her brother's suicide attempt and her own off-the-rails drinking and sexual behavior, New Yorker Violet Larkin is sent to the small town of Lyric, Maine, for the summer. Her family has a long history there, and she spends the summer making new friends, grappling with sexual attraction, and learning about her family's history. Most of the drinking and drug use is shown in flashback, but the teens in Lyric do drink a few times. Sex and attraction are central to the story, both in terms of being used as a way to escape problems and to connect with someone you love. There are a few descriptive make-out scenes. Characters swear, including "f--k" and "s--t." Honesty, friendship, and family dynamics are important to the story, which offer some more good discussion topics for families.

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What's the story?

In THE LAST TRUE POETS OF THE SEA, Violet Larkin's family is in turmoil. Her brother Sam has attempted suicide, she has turned to drinking and sex to numb herself, and her parents have no idea how to help either of their kids. Sam is sent to a treatment center, and Violet is sent to the small, seaside town of Lyric, Maine, to stay with her uncle. Violet's great-great-great-grandparents founded the town, and her family has spent many summers there. Legend has it that her ancestor was the sole survivor of a shipwreck that happened near the shores Lyric. While Violet's family frames this as being from a long line of survivors, Violet considers her family cursed. During the course of the summer, Violet makes some new, interesting, kind friends, and though she swears off any romantic entanglements, she can't help feeling attracted to a few other teens. (The romantic part of the story is based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.) During the course of the summer, she works to come to terms with her emotional issues, her poor decisions, and her guilt over her treatment of her brother and parents. She dives into learning more about her family's history, hoping to find answers to questions about the family's past and to learn how to move forward.

Is it any good?

This story of family, friendship, romance, and perseverance has beautiful moments and important messages but gets bogged down in a slow-moving narrative. The Last True Poets of the Sea is best when it focuses on the importance of trust and acceptance in all relationships. Violet has a strong voice as a narrator. She's funny and smart, and her emotional growth as a character is enjoyable. Author Julia Drake does an excellent job of making the all the characters, even the marginal ones, fully realized, three-dimensional people. This can be a rarity in YA novels. Drake also effectively shows the different ways people deal with trauma: Sam runs away or hides; Violet uses sex, alcohol, and drugs; and Liv obsesses on inconsistencies in the Lyric shipwreck history.

The biggest issue with the book is the length. It is much longer than it needs to be, and like a lost ship, it drifts here and there; whereas if it were more tightly written, it would be much more compelling and engaging. The wonderful cast of characters and love between them makes up for the slow pace.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way Violet's sexual and partying behaviors are portrayed in The Last True Poets of the Sea. Do you think the story glamorizes her behavior, or does it show the downside of these behaviors and how they affect someone's self-esteem? How does this story compare with the way this type of behavior is depicted in other books and movies?

  • Are there times you regret not being there for a family member or friend? What would you do differently? Did it end up being a good learning experience for you?

  • How do you cope with problems? Do you have a hobby or something you like to do to take your mind off things for a while?

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