The Last to Let Go
The Last to Let Go
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Annotation: When her mother is arrested for killing Brooke's abusive father, Brooke must confront the shadow of her family's violence and dysfunction.
Catalog Number: #154568
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Copyright Date: 2018
Edition Date: 2018
Pages: 369 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 1-481-48073-1
ISBN 13: 978-1-481-48073-4
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2016058211
Dimensions: 22 cm.
Language: English
Horn Book
Brooke, an academically-minded loner, is looking forward to transferring to a better high school, but everything changes when her mother is arrested for murdering Brooke's abusive policeman father. Brooke struggles to make grades, pay rent, and keep her siblings together. While the sensational plot--and Brooke's emotional journey--proceed unremarkably, Brooke's hesitant relationship with her first girlfriend is tender and well drawn.
Kirkus Reviews
A white teenage girl tries to keep her family together after her mother murders her abusive father in this sophomore effort by Smith.After high school junior Brooke's mother stabs her father to death in their apartment, Brooke and her younger sister, Callie, are forced to move in with her mom's best friend, Jackie. Flashbacks reveal that Brooke's father has physically abused her mother and also her older brother, Aaron, who now lives with his girlfriend after attempting suicide, for years. Callie was witness to the murder and has gone mute. Brooke convinces Jackie to allow the siblings to live together again in the apartment while their mom awaits trial in hopes that it will help Callie. But when this arrangement begins to fall apart, Brooke tries to make it on her own by lying to everyone, including Dani, the biracial girl she's falling in love with. Brooke's tightly focused first-person narration leaves little room for Smith to flesh out secondary characters or explain their motivations. Dialogue between Brooke and her mother is frustratingly vague, never revealing exactly what happened between Brooke's parents that last day. All this leads to a climax that falls flat because the boilerplate emotional stakes lack any real specificity. Save for Indian/white Dani, the primary cast appears to be white.Ultimately unsatisfying despite its explosive opening. (author's note) (Fiction. 14-18)
Publishers Weekly
Smith (The Way I Used to Be) takes up domestic violence and its far-reaching consequences in this empathetic novel of learning to live with painful realities. Sophomore Brooke Winters comes home from school one day to find the police taking her mother into custody after she stabbed and killed Brooke-s physically abusive father. The rest of Smith-s novel deals with the emotional and practical fallout of this tragedy, including its effect on Brooke-s younger sister, Callie, who saw the killing; older brother Aaron, who is trying to keep the family together; and Brooke herself, as she navigates a new school in the fall and comes to terms with her sexuality. A few bright spots surface as Brooke moves through the chaos of her family situation: falling in love with new friend Dani and reconnecting with her Aunt Jackie, who provides the siblings with a source of stability and comfort. But Smith never sugarcoats Brooke-s life; she-s forced to make peace with her new reality, one that readers must accept alongside her in this difficult, honest novel. Ages 14-up. Agent: Jess Regel, Foundry Literary + Media. (Feb.)

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Brooke Winters is excited about her junior year and her transfer to the best school in town, until she gets home one day to find her mother has killed her abusive father. Brooke is determined to keep what is left of her family together despite her brother's mental health issues and her sister's trauma. That doesn't leave much time for exploring the feelings for girls she's been putting aside for years or for letting anyone close enough to help with her problems. Brooke can only keep holding on to the appearance of home for so long. Smith shows great skill in navigating such a serious issue with both sensitivity and realistic outcomes. Brooke is a complex and relatable character who, like many teens, struggles when forced to take on adult roles. Her relationships with her siblings are also authentically complicated, and Brooke's sexuality is simply one of the many things she has put aside to focus her energy on family and schoolwork. The pacing and short chapters, as well as the subject matter and lack of easy solutions, will appeal to a wide variety of readers. VERDICT A well-crafted and honest look at family issues and a good pick for fans of Sara Zarr and Laurie Halse Anderson. Highly recommended. Elizabeth Saxton, Tiffin, OH
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Brooke Winters' junior year is supposed to offer a fresh start, including a new school better suited to her high academic ambitions. But that clean slate crumbles when her mom, a longtime victim of domestic abuse, stabs and kills her husband, landing herself in jail awaiting trial and fracturing Brooke's family. Brooke doesn't have anyone to turn to: she's living with an aunt and uncle she barely knows; her younger sister is traumatized by witnessing the brutal moment; and her older brother suffers in his own way. But at school, she meets Dani, with whom she develops a friendship and then something more, but from whom she keeps the biggest secret: the truth about her family. Smith's deeply felt sophomore effort (following The Way I Used to Be, 2016) explores the rippling effects of domestic violence and its ability to carry through generations. Smith balances what could have become too interior of a story, providing just the right proportion of flashbacks for readers to understand Brooke's father and Brooke's complex relation to him. Vivid characterizations of the extended family Brooke gets to know, along with others who people her first year on her own, bring the story to life. In this novel told over the four seasons, Smith crafts a story of rebirth, as Brooke forges a new identity by reflecting on a past that cannot be changed.
Word Count: 92,040
Reading Level: 5.1
Interest Level: 9-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.1 / points: 14.0 / quiz: 198153 / grade: Upper Grades
Lexile: HL760L
Guided Reading Level: Y
The Last to Let Go


IT'S THE END OF JUNE. A Friday. Like any other day, except hotter. I take my usual shortcut home from school through the alley, where the air is dense and unbreathable, saturated with the raw smell of overheated dumpster garbage. I can taste it in the back of my throat like an illness coming on.

But this is the last time I'll ever need to take this route, I remind myself. Almost instantly that invisible yet ever-present straitjacket begins to loosen its grip just enough for me to breathe a little easier. I've been counting down the days for years. Not that school itself was ever the problem. It's all the people in the school who are the problem. Or maybe, as I sometimes think, the problem might have been me all along. Occam's razor, and everything. Isn't it simpler that the problem should be one person versus hundreds, rather than the other way around? Logically, maybe. But then, if I'm really going to think about it--which, I've decided, I'm not--me being the problem is the opposite of simple.

As I step out of the shaded alley and onto the sidewalk, the sun blasts down in a cascade of heat and light. I stop and roll my jeans up to my knees, while my shadow pools at my feet like a small gray puddle. When my brother, Aaron, and I were little, we always kept a vigilant watch over our shadows, convinced that one day they'd splinter off like in Peter Pan and run amok, committing all sorts of treacherous deeds without our consent.

But that was a lifetime ago. I doubt he even remembers.

As I stand up, my forehead is instantly beaded with sweat, the back of my shirt dampened under the weight of my backpack. Usually I can't stand the heat, but today it doesn't bother me. Nothing can right now. Because I just aced my AP Bio final. I'm officially done with Riverside High. And I'll be starting my junior year, the most important year, at Jefferson--the special charter school that's had me wait-listed since eighth grade--with all new people. Where no one knows me. Where I can focus, get ahead, and start my life already. I've wanted to go there ever since I found out about all the AP classes they offer.

I've thought about it for roughly a million hours. I worked out a plan and now it's finally happening: I'll graduate from Jefferson, get in to an amazing college somewhere far away, and then get out of this hellhole for good. I feel a hitch in my step. I involuntarily skip ahead on my toes. This feels like a moment I should be celebrating with my friends, if I had any. Because I'm free, almost.

A siren chirps once.


I look up just as the red and blue lights begin spinning, in time to watch the patrol car go from parked to sixty in a matter of seconds, the noise shifting the heavy air around me. The heat radiates from the pavement through the rubber soles of my flip-flops as I skip over the crumbling blacktop, sidestepping the potholes I've practically memorized over the years. The sirens fade into the distance, but within seconds that patrol car is followed by five more, then a fire truck, then an ambulance, leaving the air too still in their wake.

I follow the procession of emergency vehicles, systematically reviewing my answers on DNA and RNA and the endocrine system, and cell division: prophase, metaphase, anaphase. For six blocks of brick and cement and glass-window storefronts, the sun beats down on my hair and face, my shadow following along behind me the whole way. I only wish I could've known that these were the last relatively carefree moments of my life, because as my heel turns ninety degrees on that last corner to our apartment, nothing will ever be the same again.

The six police cars and the fire truck and the ambulance are all jammed into the narrow alley next to our building. Although there are seven other apartments in our building, I can feel it in my bones and skin and blood, this is not about any of the other people behind any of those seven other doors.

This is about us.

I try to run but it feels like I'm moving through water, my feet sinking into wet sand, my legs getting tangled up in strands of seaweed wanting to pull me under. I don't care that I've lost my flip-flops, or that the sunbaked asphalt is boiling the soles of my feet, or that somehow my backpack has shuffled off me and is now lying in the middle of the road like a dead animal, with all those precious study materials inside. I race through the door and up the stairs, calling her name over and over again.


I make it up only to the first landing before I'm caught by the waist, a voice shouting in my ear to "calm down, calm down." I try to fight him, but it's no use. "Brooke," he says firmly, calling me by my name. "Hold still, all right--wait!" I know exactly who it is without even having to look. Tony. He told me I could call him that when I was in fourth grade and one of our neighbors had called the cops on us. It was the time Dad broke Mom's collarbone and Mom convinced the police she had fallen down the stairs. That was one of the few times I'd ever seen him cry about what he'd done; he melted into a puddle, and swore--swore to all of us, swore to a god I'm not sure he even believed in--never again. I didn't know which version of him scared me more, the crazy one or the sorry one.

We've been through this enough times to know that the cops don't pull out all the stops like this for a simple noise complaint from a neighbor, especially when that neighbor is a cop himself. Which can mean only one thing: It's finally happened. Aaron always said it was only a matter of time.

Tony opens his mouth, the words to explain escaping him. Mrs. Allister, in 2B, inches her door open, the chain-link lock pulled taut in front of her face. She stares out at me with her wide, red-rimmed eyes, her chin quivering, her mouth turning downward as she whimpers my name. "I didn't know what to do," she pleads in her own defense. "I didn't know what else to do." Mrs. Allister was always the one to call the cops, until the one time when I was in seventh grade and I barged into her apartment, yelling about how even though she thought she was helping, she was only making things worse. Calling the police never did any good, I tried to make her understand, because he was one of them. Mrs. Allister cried then, too. As far I know, she never called again. Until now.

"Ma'am, back inside right now!" Tony demands. And Mrs. Allister retreats like a turtle back into its shell. The door clicks shut, the dead bolt sliding into place.

Then suddenly a whole swarm of cops in bulletproof vests barrel down the stairs toward us, shouting, "Outta the way, move, outta the way, get her outta here." I think they mean me at first, but before I even know what's happening next, Tony has my back pinned against Mrs. Allister's door, shielding me as they pass by us like a hurricane of bodies.

That's when I see her, my little sister, like a ghost encircled by these gray uniforms, each one with a hand on her. Her hair swings forward over her shoulders as the cops jerk her body down the stairs. She's still wearing her baby-blue T-shirt and her favorite cutoff jean shorts, which she isn't allowed to wear to school, just like she was when I left this morning. I remember because she kicked her feet up and sprawled out on the couch, grinning in that stupid, goofy way of hers, taunting me because she was already finished with her exams. "Summer starts now, sucker!" she said as she flipped on the TV. But now her eyes stare ahead, wide and empty, unfocused.

"Callie?" I call after her. "Callie!" I shout her name as loud as my voice will let me. She doesn't even look back. I struggle to get out from under Tony's arms, but he holds me in place.

"What did he do?" I want to scream it, but the words drown in my throat. I search Tony's eyes for an explanation, but I can't force myself to ask the real question: Is she dead? But I need the answer. I need it now. Because even though I know she has to be dead, there's this hope still chiseling away at my heart. His arms envelop me, and for maybe the billionth time in my life I wish that he were my father, that he were taking me out of here. For good. Away from all of this. I feel myself slinking down against the wall and melting into the floor, my legs twisting under me, suddenly unable to support the weight of my body.

Tony crouches down next to me, instructing, calmly somehow, "Breathe, Brooke. Breathe." Over his head a figure has emerged. I blink hard. There, on the landing at the top of the stairs--alive. She's alive, and life can continue, and we'll be fine, we'll be fine because she's there and alive, and that's all that matters. "Mom," I whisper, scrambling to my feet. "Mom!" I yell.

She lifts her head as I call out to her. Her face is tear-and-mascara streaked. I break away from Tony, my flimsy arms and legs struggling to crawl up each step. I reach out to her, but she doesn't reach back. I watch as she unfolds in bits and pieces, like my brain is suddenly working in slow motion to understand, unable to take it in all at once.

There's a legion of cops surrounding her, holding her arms behind her back as they walk down the stairs in rigid, jerky movements. Her eyes hold mine as she comes closer, mouthing the words, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," as if she no longer has a voice. And I'm shoved out of the way like I'm not even there. As she passes, I see her arms twisted behind her back, the shiny silver handcuffs locked around her wrists. Her hands look like she dipped them in red food coloring and didn't wash it off before it stained, the way our fingertips used to look after coloring Easter eggs when we were little.

I think my heart actually stops beating. I swear, I die. A temporary little death. Because that's when the whole picture shifts into focus, the puzzle pieces fitting together, yet the picture they form making no sense at all.

"No," I breathe, trying to shout the word. But no one's listening. No one understands.

Excerpted from The Last to Let Go by Amber Smith
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

“Heartwrenching.” —VOYA (starred review)

“Beautiful, captivating prose.” —RT Book Reviews

A twisted tragedy leaves Brooke and her siblings on their own in this provocative novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Way I Used to Be.

How do you let go of something you’ve never had?

Junior year for Brooke Winters is supposed to be about change. She’s transferring schools, starting fresh, and making plans for college so she can finally leave her hometown, her family, and her past behind.

But all of her dreams are shattered one hot summer afternoon when her mother is arrested for killing Brooke’s abusive father. No one really knows what happened that day, if it was premeditated or self-defense, whether it was right or wrong. And now Brooke and her siblings are on their own.

In a year of firsts—the first year without parents, first love, first heartbreak, and her first taste of freedom—Brooke must confront the shadow of her family’s violence and dysfunction, as she struggles to embrace her identity, finds her true place in the world, and learns how to let go.

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