The Last Forever by Deb Caletti is the story of a girl named Tess, and the people who have influenced her the most: her parents, each absent in a different way; her grandmother, who she hasn't seen since she was a toddler; and someone she never saw coming. The summer between Tessa's junior and senior years of high school is a summer filled with unexpected, unforgettable things.
Six months after her mother dies, Tessa's father decides that they should go on an impromptu road trip. Even though there's still a few weeks of school left, and even though Tess is nowhere near as impulsive as her somewhat irresponsible father, she agrees to the trip, thinking it'll be nice to blow off steam for a few days.
But what begins as a tourist-y jaunt from San Bernardino, California to the Grand Canyon continues on to Las Vegas, then to Portland, Oregon, where her dad grew up. Then her dad takes off without warning, leaving Tess stranded with a grandmother she barely knows.
Tess surprises herself by becoming comfortable not only with her artistic, lively grandma but also with her new surroundings. She falls in love with this little neighborhood where everyone knows everyone. Tess bonds very quickly with an boy her age named Henry Lark. Often found in the library, which is also one of Tess' favorite haunts, Henry is extremely smart and kind, and this friendship is a wonderful comfort to Tess.
Tess brought her most precious possession with her on this trip: the last pixiebell, a plant that her mother cared for, raised from a seed that her mother's father stole (!) while attending a party oh so many years ago. Caring for the plant gives Tess a connection to her mother, so when the pixiebell starts to wilt, Tess herself begins to crumble. With help from various townspeople (and no one is more helpful than Henry), they try to find a way to save the pixiebell - and, by extension, save Tess and her family.
The Last Forever by Deb Caletti is about finding your roots, and planting your own. It's about grief, and hope, and truth, and family. It's about the choices that are made for us, and the choices we make for ourselves. It's about celebrating what you have, honoring what you have, and knowing who you are.
Once again, Deb Caletti reminds us to embrace both the beauty and the pain in unexpected moments and in the most important parts of life. Whereas some books (and movies, and other types of stories) pile up coincidences for the sake of "high stakes" and/or happy endings, the revelations in The Last Forever are plausible, realistic, and that's why they resonate so deeply. The time we spend with Tess is time well spent.
My favorite lines from the book include:
...This connection between us. It feels old. Like it's already been, or will be, for a long time. - Page 134
The absence...has its own energy. Absence in general does. - Page 152
I'm having a hard time seeing the beauty through my own disappointment. - Page 165
His kindness threatens to tip me over. - Page 233
My author spotlight on Deb Caletti contains my reviews of all of her YA novels.