Book Corner

Book Review: The Last Goodbye (ARC)

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How can you move on if you can’t let go?

Spencer was the love of Anna’s life: her husband, her best friend, her rock. She thought their love would last forever.

But three years ago, Spencer was tragically killed in an accident and Anna’s world was shattered. How can she ever move on, when she’s lost her soulmate?

On New Year’s Eve Anna calls Spencer’s phone number, just to hear his old voicemail greeting. But to her shock, someone answers…

Brody has inherited Spencer’s old number and is the first person who truly understands what Anna’s going through. As her and Brody’s phone calls become lengthier and more frequent, they begin opening up to each other—and slowly rediscover how to smile, how to laugh, even how to hope.

But Brody hasn’t been entirely honest with Anna. Will his secret threaten everything, just as it seems she might find the courage to love again?

This was an ARC, (advanced reader copy), and I must say, this is the best ARC I’ve read thus far.

If you’ve ever lost someone close to you and had a hard time letting go and moving on, this is the story for you. It’s beautifully written and the characters are thoroughly fleshed out so that I was fully invested in both Anna and Brody’s journeys by the end.

I admit, I’m brutally honest in my reviews, and I will be with this one, too, so trust me when I say, this is worth the read.

Anna was married to Spencer, he was the love her life. They had been married a few short years before tragically, Spencer is hit by a drunk driver and killed. Anna struggles with his death and doesn’t know how to move forward, she’s stuck on a hamster wheel of grief and she doesn’t know how to get off and when she has a chance to get off, her grief and guilt keep her there. This story is not only about Anna, but about Anna’s relationship with her best friend, Gabi, and struggling to hold on to a relationship with her in-laws. So I appreciated the fact that the story was more than just Anna’s struggle but included her struggles with her friendships and extended families and finding a new normal within her sad little world.

I thought Brody’s introduction to the story was terribly clever. I’ve always thought, and even encouraged, people to get to know one another sight unseen – then you have no choice but to get to know the person before allowing the external package to influence your impressions. And once Brody was introduced, I wanted to know more about him immediately, not only because he was willing to listen to Anna, a perfect stranger, and her grief but because the author does a great job of surrounding Brody with mystery that I was dying to know what event caused him to be a recluse and afraid to be around people.

Gabi is the requisite breath of fresh air. Her concern for Anna is genuine and I admired her attempts to get Anna to break free of her zombie state and start living life again. I think the story would have been too depressing and sad without Gabi’s interventions and I appreciated Gabi’s persistence and hard work to look out for Anna. Everyone should have a Gabi in his/her life.

Jeremy is a man she meets while taking salsa lessons (one of Gabi’s many attempts to get Anna out into real life again) and she’s instantly attracted to him. But with that interest comes the guilt and she fights the attraction for quite a while. She knows she’s physically attracted to him but she can’t help but compare him to Spencer and that guilt sabotages any relationship strides she might make. I appreciated the fact that Anna didn’t immediately fall in love with Jeremy as that would have somehow diluted Anna’s sorrow and made her struggle to love again seems frivolous. But her journey with Jeremy was necessary because it gave her an opportunity to grow into the person she needed and wanted to be.

Anna’s relationship with her in-laws was an interesting aspect of the story. I found myself getting a little impatient with Anna’s willingness to endure her mother-in-law’s (MIL) coldness but I understood her need to remain a part of the life she had before Spencer’s death. Her MIL is really struggling with her son’s death and she partially blames Anna. They have bi-weekly luncheons where Anna, her in-laws and Spencer’s brother and his wife get together to remember Spencer. They talk about him and routinely flip through photo albums of various stages of Spencer’s life in an attempt not to forget him.

This is a part of the story that I struggled with. Not with Anna’s motivations, but rather, with her maintaining her relationship with her in-laws. I confess, I’ve never lost anyone super close to me. I’ve been very fortunate, thank God. So reading about Anna’s guilt, though touching and poignant, I had a hard time relating to her struggles, though I could certainly understand her journey. I guess, what I’m trying to say is, would most people, do most people, maintain a relationship with their by marriage family if the link to that family is missing? I can see it continuing shortly after the death, you’re all grappling to come to terms with the tragedy and helping one another through the loss, but would one expect to keep that closeness after three years? The time frame almost seemed too long to me – the fact that Anna was having such a hard time coming to terms with what happened, her insistence on keeping her relationship with her in-laws seemed ….. overkill. Then again, can one put a time stamp on grief? I know everyone deals with grief in different ways and everyone’s journey is different, there’s definitely not a set template that one must follow when dealing with the death of a loved one, but judging by the intensity of Anna’s grief, I think the story might have been more … impactful if Spencer had only been dead say … a year?

Again, I don’t have any experience to say whether one would most likely, or should most likely, have that much grief after three years but I did feel a little impatient with the intensity of Anna’s grief she maintained for so long. I can’t imagine how exhausting that must have been for her, and for the people around her.

I think Anna’s determination to hold on to her relationship with her in-laws is what truly holds her back from moving forward. I do wonder if her reaction to seeing Brody would have been so dramatic if she hadn’t maintained that connection. To me, it almost stunted her growth and perhaps that was the reason she was still so stuck in her grief after three years.

And speaking of when Anna finally meets Brody – her reaction was disappointing. I lost a little respect for Anna at that point and I felt she reacted childishly. My sympathies definitely shifted to Brody though perhaps that was the author’s intention. Again, I feel like Anna’s insistence to hang on to the past and build some sort of close relationship with her in-laws stunted her emotional growth and that would somewhat explain her reaction when seeing Brody. I get why the author did that, but the story, in my opinion, was near perfect until that scene. I get that Lucas likely wanted to toss in a surprise, and she certainly did, and I wasn’t exactly expecting a happy ending at that point, but Anna’s reaction was not only the last thing I expected, it was the least desirable scenario. But let’s be honest, people are flawed, imperfect and unpredictable. Who’s to say something like that wouldn’t happen in real life?

Regardless, that part of the story left a bitter taste in my mouth after being used to chewing something sweet but it wasn’t a big enough deal to make me dislike the story, overall.

I also found it interesting that the lead character, Anna, grew much more quickly than the secondary character, Brody. It was as if the story started as Anna’s story but ended up being Brody’s story by the end. I thought that was an interesting twist.

In summary:

The Last Goodbye is a story of loss, grief, depression and the power of human connection. It’s been three years since Anna lost the love her life, her husband Spencer. He was killed by a drunk driver while running an errand for Anna. The story centers around Anna’s depression and her inability, or unwillingness, to move on with her life. Anna’s best friend, Gabi, tries hard to maneuver her friend out of the depression stage of grief but for every triumph her mother-in-law succeeds in sucking her back into the shadows of sadness. She knows she needs to move on, but she can’t let go of her guilt long enough to give herself a chance to move past on.

On New Year’s Eve, in sheer desperation and loneliness, she dials Spencer’s number to listen to his voicemail message and is shocked when she hears a male stranger’s voice pick up. At first, she thinks it’s Spencer’s ghost come back to haunt her, but she soon realizes that, in her grief, she forgot to pay Spencer’s phone bill and the phone company had closed the account and had given the number to someone else. Unbeknownst to her, the man on the other end of the line is just as lonely and sad as she is and together, they form a precarious and curious bond. Anna continues to call the number and the man continues to pick up, to listen and offer her advice and they build an unusual friendship.

Gabi, in an attempt to help her friend to start living life again, signs them up for a salsa class and Anna meets Jeremy. She’s surprised that she finds him attractive and she tentatively tries to build a relationship with him but she can’t get past the notion that “he’s not her Spencer.” The relationship dies before it’s given life but the experience teaches Anna that she’s capable of living a normal life, however that may look for her.

Anna continues to maintain a relationship with Spencer’s family though in a lot of ways, her desperate attempt to keep them in her life prevents her from moving forward and she continues to struggle to keep Spencer alive in her memory but desperately searching for normalcy.

Though the story moves slow at times, I feel it’s necessary to show the reader the importance of coming to terms and dealing with various degrees of grief and depression. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that has had trouble navigating their own difficult journey with the death of a loved one. Lucas does a really good job of exploring and processing the stages of grief, specifically depression, guilt and the complexity of living one’s life and moving on from a personal tragedy.

The characters are well rounded and the story is beautifully written. I appreciated Lucas’ attention to Brody’s story and dealing with the aftermath of his personal tragedy. In a lot of ways, this story begins as Anna’s story and ends completing Brody’s story. It’s a lovely twist and I would highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a story that deals with love, loss and new beginnings.