Book Review: Every Last Promise
By: Kristin Halbrook
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Page Count: 288
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary
I knew going in that Every Last Promise would not be an easy book to read. The subject matter in this one isn't pleasant - rape, death, bullying. None of these things evoke warm fuzzies, but sadly these issues are real and create raw wounds in the hearts of teens and adults on almost a daily basis in our world. Authors who shine a light on these issues through fiction are valuable assets that help readers work through their own grief and conflict by seeing their struggles mirrored in fictional characters.
Kayla comes from a small town in Missouri. She feels like the very fiber of her being is made up of the dirt, blades of grass, fresh air, and scent of hay on the breeze that fuels the agricultural community she calls home. Kayla has no desire for change to come, but as we all know it is inevitable. She doesn't even plan to leave for college. Instead Kayla will attend the local college and train to become a nurse just like her mother. She can't imagine a life outside of this town and without the three best friends she has had for the majority of her life: Jen, Selena, and Bean. One night full of tragedy will change everything that Kayla is so desperately trying to hold on to and alter the course of her life forever. Kayla will learn that sometimes you truly can never go home again.
While I know the subjects in this novel are not easy one and the characters' responses to the events are sadly realistic, I couldn't get past my feelings about Kayla's actions to see her as a sympathetic character. For me, Kayla was selfish and passive. I couldn't imagine seeing what she had seen and experiencing what she had experienced while remaining silent. To make matters worse, she knows that she needs to do the right thing and break her silence to help a friend who was sexually assaulted, but still she does nothing and hopes that life will return to normal. She is given multiple opportunities by various people in the story to step forward with what she knows about that night, but she constantly chooses to keep things hidden. The novel focuses on her guilt and her remorse, but largely leaves the victim of the assault on the periphery.
Kayla does redeem herself slightly by the end of the novel, but I largely felt like it was long overdue. It was nice to see her embrace that change was needed. She states, "Because home isn't a sweeping view from a bluff, or the scent of cinnamon sugar in the air, or the crackling of a dry road under a horse's hooves. Home is where you can live with yourself" (Kindle Location 3082). I think this is something readers need to take to heart.
One of my biggest complaints was the characters. The vast majority of the characters are horrible people. They are not loyal and steadfast friends. I was sickened by Jen and Selena - just seeing their names on the page made my stomach churn. I will never understand their choices and actions. Furthermore, almost every male in this novel made me want to spit nails. What was worse is that the town sees the boys as glorious heroes who are only having a little fun. Ultimately, my visceral reaction to the majority of the characters led to the rating choice. I battled in my mind because I also feel like this is an important novel that forces the reader to engage in some difficult internal dialogue.
The one bright spot in this novel for me was Noah. He is a symbol for justice and making the right choice. He never wavers in his belief of doing the right thing. It is his friendship that starts to steer Kayla in the right direction. She finds courage through his example and her own remorse for not doing something sooner to set things right. I also gravitated toward Bean and Kayla's family.
In many ways, this novel was one of the most heart breaking ones I have ever read. Sadly, I know this story is authentic which makes me want to scream. When will we stop blaming victims and exhaling their tormentors as town heroes? When we will stop placing the blame for sexual assault on the female and excusing the male? When will our society solve problems rather than sweeping them under the rug?
Standing up for others is not always easy, but it is necessary. We cannot hope to make the world a better place unless we are willing to speak on behalf of those who need us. I can only hope that each reader who spends time with Kayla will be touched by her story and find their own courage.
One Last Gripe: I wanted to see justice served and while it's swirling in the air as the novel concludes, it felt unfinished somehow.
Favorite Thing About This Book: It's hard to say I have a favorite aspect when this read was a difficult one for me so I suppose its that element. I felt and I thought a great deal as I spent my time in Kayla's world. I hope that this novel will always remind me to have courage in the face of bullies and tormentors.
First Sentence: This is a story about heroes.
Favorite Character: Noah
Least Favorite Character: I have a multitude, but it's probably a tie between Jay and Jen.
Perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Gayle Forman, Every Last Promise is a provocative and emotional novel about a girl who must decide between keeping quiet and speaking up after witnessing a classmate's sexual assault.
Kayla saw something at the party that she wasn't supposed to. But she hasn't told anyone. No one knows the real story about what happened that night--about why Kayla was driving the car that ran into a ditch after the party, about what she saw in the hours leading up to the accident, and about the promise she made to her friend Bean before she left for the summer.
Now Kayla's coming home for her senior year. If Kayla keeps quiet, she might be able to get her old life back. If she tells the truth, she risks losing everything--and everyone--she ever cared about.