The Last Forever: Reviews « Deb Caletti
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The Last Forever: Reviews

“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.”
—Horn Book (starred review)

“Tessa and her dad are barely hanging on since her mom died a few months ago. While she tries to go through the motions at school, her dad retreats into a pot-smoking, rerun-watching haze. A week before school ends, he decides that an impromptu road trip from San Bernardino to the Grand Canyon will help them both. Knowing all-too-well that her dad’s whims can carry them in any direction, Tessa packs the necessities. Most important? A said-to-be-extinct pixiebell plant that Tessa’s grandfather stole years ago and that accompanied her mother through the stages of her life. The Grand Canyon trip extends to Las Vegas, then north to Portland and Seattle, and Tessa is angry but not surprised when her father drops her at her estranged grandmother’s house on Parrish Island and takes off without a goodbye. Over the following weeks, Tessa gets to know the island’s year-round residents, and is immediately drawn to handsome library employee Henry. When Pix starts to wilt, Tessa blames herself, and Henry and her new friends rally around to try to save the plant that represents the last bit of her mother. The result of their efforts is as unexpected as it is bittersweet. Henry’s and Tessa’s relationship has its own bittersweet undertones, and Caletti beautifully portrays two teens whose love for each other is not “happily ever after,” but who both come out on the other side stronger and wiser. A lovely story of imperfect people who make beautiful things happen. Reviewer: Kim Dare; Ages 13 up.”
—Children’s Literature

“A despairing father and his 17-year-old daughter take an emotional journey together that brings redemption, hope and healing.
Tessa’s mother has recently died, and the teen is struggling to adjust to life with her loving but irresponsible pot-smoking dad, who is also fighting to right himself. To shake them from their spiritual stupors, her father suggests they take a spontaneous road trip—but there’s a precious reminder of her mother that Tessa can’t leave behind: a rare plant handed down by her grandfather and lovingly cared for by her mother. The trip ends at her grandmother Jenny’s house, but the journey does not. While her father and Jenny try to repair old rifts, Tessa slowly warms, forming a new bond with her grandmother. Enter Henry, a kind, handsome library employee and fellow book geek who seems totally in sync with Tessa, but even as their relationship deepens, he inexplicably keeps her at arm’s length. Meanwhile, Tessa’s plant is withering, and she is desperate to keep it from dying. Henry and the library staff collectively join the frantic research—and the ending is so enchanting it’s certain to reduce readers to bittersweet tears. Caletti’s writing is seamless and fluid, rich with descriptions of Tessa’s physical world as well as her inner ruminations. A story that proves there can, indeed, be life after death. (Fiction. 12 & up)”
— Kirkus (starred review)

“After a trying bout with cancer, Tess’s mother has died, but she’s left behind a one-of-a-kind pixiebell plant. “My mother vowed that the last pixiebell would never die on her watch, and now that I have it, it isn’t going to die on mine, either,” Tess vows. When her impulsive, pot-smoking, less-than-dependable father takes her on an extended road trip to the Grand Canyon, Tess brings the plant with her, but keeping it alive during their journey through the desert is a struggle. Unexpectedly, Tess’s father brings her to the home of his mother, an artist Tess barely remembers. Tess is in for some life-changing lessons about old family grudges and secrets held by new acquaintances, including a boy who makes it his mission to help Tess save the withering pixiebell, and wins her heart in the process. Featuring sharp-witted first-person narration, some fascinating facts about plants and seeds, relatable characters, and evocative settings, Caletti’s (The Story of Us) inspiring novel eloquently depicts the nature of mutability. As with her previous books, this love story reverberates with honesty and emotion. Ages 12–up.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Can an impromptu road trip heal two broken hearts? It doesn’t seem likely to Tess, who’s lost her mother to cancer and now lives with her pot-smoking, tie-dye-wearing father; he’s well meaning, if immature. But a road trip from San Bernardino to the Grand Canyon it is. Only her father doesn’t stop there, continuing on to Oregon and then north to a small coastal town, home to his mother, Jenny, whom Tess hasn’t seen in 15 years. Her father up and leaves Tess at Jenny’s, off to who-knows-where, and she’s forced to make sense of how to adjust to her new surroundings, while her heart remains very much at home and with her mother. Along for the ride is a rare plant—a pixiebell—which may be the last of its kind. It’s survived since Tess’s grandfather stole the seed at a party long ago and has moved with her mother through four decades; only now, under Tess’ care, it’s starting to wilt. When she meets Henry at the library, there’s an instant attraction, and together, they work to save the pixiebell. At the start of each chapter is a short, explanatory chapter about a seed, which ties into the novel’s theme of rebirth, healing, and growth. Caletti writes movingly here, particularly as Tess reflects on her mother’s final days, and offers up a surprising story about love, loss, and putting down roots in a world that’s constantly changing.”
— Booklist (starred review)

“Caletti has a sizable fan base—and they’ll all be waiting.”
— Ann Kelley