Title: The Last Kid Left
Author: Rosecrans Baldwin
Genre: Fiction, literary fiction, crime
Publisher: MCD, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release date: June 6th, 2017
Where I got the book: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Summary (modified from Goodreads): Nineteen-year-old Nick Toussaint Jr. is driving drunk through New Jersey on his way to Mexico, with the dead bodies of Toussaint’s doctor and his wife in the backseat. When Nick crashes the car, police chief Martin Krug becomes involved in the case. Despite an easy murder confession from Nick, something doesn’t quite add up for the soon-to-be retired Krug. Nick is extradited to his hometown of Claymore, New Hampshire, where the local scandal rocks the residents. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, sixteen-year-old Emily Portis, rallies behind her boyfriend. This story charts the evolution of their relationship and of Emily’s own coming-of-age in the face of tragedy and justice.
“To help, to hurt, to get screwed over, to screw someone over, do good, do bad, yell, tell people how to live their lives – none of it mattered. It just wasn’t real, it was shit people did to kill time, to conform, to avoid feeling afraid, to make themselves more comfortable with impending death.”
– The Last Kid Left, Rosecrans Baldwin
Have you ever read a book that includes a lot of themes that you’d usually consider heavy and emotionally taxing and then you finally finish it and all you can really think is “meh”? Because that’s pretty much what happened with me and “The Last Kid Left”.
This book is part a detective/crime novel, part a coming of age story, and part a social study. Many different viewpoints are portrayed and represented throughout the book; we follow the investigation of the murders in question, we follow the accused and his girlfriend as well as parts of their family and friends, and through a journalist looking for a story we also get a good picture of how the media behaves in cases like this. This book might not have started out on the most original note, but the concept of a modern day witch-hunt against the backdrop of a murder crime definitely succeeded in catching my interest initially.
On a deeper level, the themes that are mostly tackled here are very important, such as sexual abuse, bullying, alcoholism, and depression. It also explores issues that are highly relevant today, most notably how quickly something can go viral and the widespread consequences of this. These are all themes that definitely should be discussed and written about. However, the more that I read, the more it seemed to me that the book was trying really hard to be up to date, diverse, and relevant. In addition to this, the characters read a lot like stereotypes and mainly failed to come across as complex, two-dimensional characters you could actually get invested it. I thought many of the different backstories were tragic and serious in themselves, but they had a tendency to be rather typical, and I have to be honest – there’s only so much you can read about a character’s depressing life when you don’t really care about them or sympathize with them. I also had problems understanding the motivations behind some of the characters’ actions; a lot of things happened in here where I was just left wondering why and what the point actually was.
I also didn’t care much for the author’s writing style. In itself, the writing is good. Baldwin is clearly a talented writer. However, it’s a text-heavy book and many passages read a bit like streams of consciousness, while the writing style also has a tendency to suddenly change. There are text messages, emails, chatspeak, and even a very long part written as an article draft for a magazine with more than 30 added footnotes. Maybe it was meant to add to the realism of it all but as a whole I have to say it got a bit tedious to read. I also think the book is generally too long. The way the characters’ lives and backgrounds are portrayed, with scenes and incidents from the past and present constantly added into the mix, just drags the story out. Of course, the book could have just seemed too long for me since I had a hard time caring about most of the characters in the first place.
“The Last Kid Left” deals with some very serious and relevant issues, I just wish that it had been executed better. It sadly comes across as somewhat incoherent and all over the place. It’s definitely a very interesting concept that should be explored more in books, and it really was off to a great start, but ultimately this book just wasn’t for me.