The Last Forever

336p. S & S/Simon Pulse. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442450004; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442450011.
Gr 9 Up—Tessa's mom recently died. Before her junior year of high school finishes for the summer, she and her dad leave on an impromptu road trip that leads them to a small coastal town in Washington State. Here, the teen is able to confront her feelings of loss and begin the task of accepting new family relationships, friendships, and a burgeoning romance. When her new buddies embark on a journey to help her save the one thing that is most important to her (her mother's plant), Tessa finds the power within to move on because "good things can sit in the distance, just beyond your view, waiting until you go toward it." Caletti creates a wonderfully unique voice in Tessa, filled with wit, confusion, and mature reflection. The mood isn't all somber and confusing; through realistic dialogue and even pacing, readers get a true sense of Tessa's growth as a young woman. Teens get to know the diverse cast of supporting characters through her lens, including a bisexual character. Each chapter opens with a seed description, and the climax relates to the fate of Tessa's mom's plant. It is through these devices that Caletti explores the idea of longevity and "lasting forever."—Stephanie DeVincentis, Downers Grove North High School, IL
Six months after her mother's death, Tess and her father visit Parrish, home to Tess's grandmother. When grieving, fly-by-night Dad leaves, the town rallies around Tess, helping her save her mother's rare "pixiebell" plant. Caletti's deft hand with detail, the emotionally true writing, and a protagonist whose experience with love and loss is wholly absorbing make for an engaging book.
In her latest YA novel, Caletti returns to her fictional Northwest setting of Parrish Island, most recently visited in The Six Rules of Maybe (rev. 5/10). Six months after her mother's death from cancer, Tess and her father are still adrift in their loss. When Dad suggests an impromptu road trip to the Grand Canyon, off they go -- and then keep going, eventually reaching the San Juan Islands and Parrish, home to Jenny, Tess's paternal grandmother and a virtual stranger to her. Tess is stunned when fly-by-night Dad gets back in the truck and leaves -- abandoning her to be alone with his grief. Luckily for Tess, first Jenny, then new friends Sasha and Henry (especially Henry), and eventually the entire small town rally around her, helping her save the rare and mysterious "pixiebell" plant her mother owned for decades, which seems on the verge of kicking it. Descriptions of various seeds open each chapter, botanical details of survival, growth, and transformation serving, often humorously, as introduction to character and plot ("The oak can take up to fifty years to mature…the same can be said for certain people who shall remain nameless"). An altogether unrealistic conclusion ends up feeling surprisingly believable, due to Caletti's deft hand with detail, the emotionally true writing, and a protagonist whose experience with love and loss is wholly absorbing. jennifer m. brabander

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