Book Review: The Last True Love Story

tstatic1-squarespaceitle: The Last True Love Story
author: Brendan Kiely
publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster; 2016
main character: Ted Hendrix (aka Hendrix)
Young Adult Fiction

There was something in the way Angie Manfredi described this book that made me want to read it sooner rather than later, so I rushed it to the top of my TBR pile, a pile consisting of enough books to open a small bookstore. I’m glad I made that move. I only review books by white authors when they write about children/teens of color or Native Americans. A major character in The Last True Love Story is Guatemalan and there is interaction with Native American culture.

The Last True Love Story. You’ll spend some time trying to figure out that title and you should expect to get all teary eyed when you do.

I think the cover is a sky full of shooting stars caught in a whirlpool similar to what Hendrix and Corrina might see as they lay under the desert sky. The font has a very old feel to it, as does the worn purple hue on the jacket. See the conundrum: this is an old story, but it’s the last. true. love story, implying it’s recent. There’s a prominent respect for age from the moment one encounters this book.

But, this is a YA book. In his writing, Kiely seems to be addressing teens who aren’t quite woke to the world around them, but who want to be. Most of them are probably white readers, but this story will have a wider appeal than that. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to a teen who likes romance, rock and roll or who is a poet at heart.

As with life, it’s all about the journey. Gpa has Alzheimer’s Disease and can no longer live with Hendrix and his mom. Hendrix and his gpa developed a very close relationship over the years when they did live together and Hendrix wants to honor that by doing this one last thing for gpa who wants to get back home, back to where he can best remember his wife, his true love. Hendrix has promised to take him there.

“Let the disease kill me, Teddy, but don’t let me forget her.” (p16)

Hendrix’s also kinda crushing on Corrina. He recognizes her pain and is willing to take her on his journey.

“We’d both taken the Poetry Workshop elective that spring, but even though I remembered so many of her poems so clearly, intimate one about her being adopted in Guatemala by a white couple from LA, that didn’t make us friends. We were just two people who recognized each other among a sea of thousands. So I didn’t really know her, I just knew I loved listening to her sing, and when you’re a junior in high school and your life feels like a whirlpool sucking you further and further down, and everything you thought you know is cracking and falling apart and sinking with you, those little moments of beauty are the pockets of air that give you the energy to keep kicking up above it all.” (p. 18)

Hendrix is a person of his word and he plans to take both Corrina and gpa to New York.

“You are your word, Teddy.”

“I know. I promise,” I said, but the knot cinching tight in my gut told me I was telling him a lie, even though it was a truth I wanted to believe.” (p.15)

While his journey focuses on these two individuals, Hendrix also has a personal journey going on to discover his dad, otherwise known as Dead Dad.

Along the way, the trio finds themselves in situations that reveal the inequities of our world, situations where power becomes abusive and threatens one’s personal safety. Hendrix critically explores these situations and takes his role to heart, both at times when he is privileged and at others when he is not. With the exception of the scene regarding Native Americans, these instances evolve organically in the story. I think he’s a bit didactic when explaining that the over 500 Native American tribes are separate nations, not culture groups. Small criticism on my part; he makes a good point.

Kiely’s craftsmanship shines as use uses the environment to amplify situations and predict outcomes. I enjoyed passing through locations out west with them, learning bits of American rock music history along the way. It was that one simple line [SPOLIER ALERT] “I washed his feet” with all its cultural and religious implications that got me the most.

In his acknowledgements, Kiely discusses the very real and personal nature of this story that began when he, his grandparents and his uncle traveled through Ireland. Many family stories were shared on the trip and many more were made on what was perhaps their last trip together as a unit because his grandfather has Alzheimer’s. Kiely writes this story from his heart with characters who pay attention to the world around it and learn from it. Yes, this is The Last True Love Story.

Brendan Kiely is the author of three published YA novels.