Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen.
Every day, with few variations -- snow, minor illnesses, the failure of the paper to arrive, a lost backpack, a sleepover that's left us one, or two, or sometimes even three kids shy of the usual full set -- every day is like this. Average. Ordinary. More or less. - from Every Last One, page 11 -
Mary Beth Latham lives in a small New England town with her three teenage children (twin fourteen year old boys, Max and Alex, and seventeen year old Ruby), her ophthalmologist husband, Glen, and their ten year old dog Ginger. Life is ordinary, if not a little challenging. Max (one of the twins) is a bit of a geek, the odd boy out ... and struggles with depression as his brother, Alex, excels at sports and is the popular kid at school. Ruby longs to be a writer; sensitive, introspective, and with an inner beauty, she is growing into a young woman who is thinking of college as she enters her senior year of high school. Ruby is ready to say good-bye to her boyfriend, Kiernan, who has been a fixture in the lives of all the Lathams, a boy who has played in their backyard, shared their dinner table, and helped Max with school projects. Mary Beth loves Glen, but the marriage has become almost too predictable. As she goes off to work at her landscaping business every morning, she wonders if this is all there will be.
The first 150 pages of Every Last One is dedicated to these characters -- their dreams, their flaws, their every day routines. I found myself laughing more than once, smiling, nodding my head. Yes, I thought, I recognize this family. They are like so many people I know. But, woven through their stories is a sense that everything is not as it seems. The problems which appear so ordinary have a darkness around the edges. Then suddenly, in just two pages, a horrifying, indescribable act of violence changes everything.
I read the last half of this incredible novel with tears streaming down my cheeks. I sobbed. I found myself unable to let the story go when I would close the book to go to sleep at night. I talked to my husband about Mary Beth, Glen, Ruby, Max and Alex as though these were my friends; people I knew and had come to love. And that is the beauty of this novel: Anna Quindlen creates characters that feel so real, who have such potential, who come alive on the page ... that the reader becomes completely engrossed in their stories. As Mary Beth struggles to cope with what has happened to her family, the reader is right there by her side, grieving, seeking answers and trying to move forward with her.
Every Last One is a novel about what it means to put one foot in front of the other after an unspeakable tragedy. It is about the inner strength we all carry but hope we never have to rely on. It is a reminder that life is precious and can change instantly; that what we have is a gift we should treasure. This is also a book about what it means to be happy -- the fleeting moments that come and go, the ordinariness of life's little pleasures are the building blocks of happiness -- and they are tenuous, fragile, unexpected.
You can't plan them, although I suppose those people who meditate and practice yoga think you can, but there are those moments when we experience physical happiness despite ourselves, before our minds remind us of the reasons we shouldn't. A slight breeze, a warming sun, a little bird music: Your senses say something before your good sense says something different. If only we could be creatures of the body more often. - from Every Last One, page 276 -
Anna Quindlen is an extraordinarily gifted writer who has given her readers a novel which is unforgettable. Poignant, beautifully rendered, achingly sad, but joyously hopeful ... Every Last One is a book which left me emotionally drained. I loved this novel and its immensely likable characters. This was not a book which I simply read, finished and put away in the bookcase. I kept coming back to it, even after I had finished reading. I did not want to say good-bye.
Readers who love character driven novels, who are not afraid to take a journey through grief and recovery, and who want to read a novel which packs an emotional punch, will want to read Every Last One. I promise, it is not a book you will soon forget.
- Quality of Writing: Five stars out of five
- Plot: Four and a half stars out of five
- Characters: Five stars out of five
- Overall Rating: Five stars out of five.
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Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".