“We all have stories we never tell. Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.
As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity–and why he really disappeared. Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.”
-Synopsis from StoryGraph
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave was my Book of the Month pick for May, and it is also currently Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club pick. I was so eager to read this book because it has been hyped up considerably over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed and felt that the way it was marketed did not quite match up to what was delivered. Below, I will list a few reasons as to why I feel that way, with some light spoilers.
- This book is set in two locations that I happen to love reading about: California and Texas. The descriptions of the California settings were vivid and easy to imagine. It set the tone nicely for the beginning of the book. I almost wish the entire story had been able to take place there.
- I liked that the chapters were very short, because this is always my preferred reading style, especially when it comes to mysteries and thrillers.
From the very beginning of this book I knew that the writing style was going to be something I would struggle with. I am not a grammar stickler, but I can only handle so many sentences that begin with the word “and” before I start to question why those sentences weren’t combined into one complete thought, or at least joined by a semicolon. The writing style was primarily fragmented sentence that were difficult to follow. I had to re-read a lot of passages twice. I am curious to know if any other readers experienced this?
I did not find Bailey’s voice to be realistic for a teenager. Her mannerisms and personality were consistent, but the way she spoke, specifically to Hannah, did not seem realistic to me. She refers to her dad as “my father” a lot, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a teenager speak that way. I realize that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but there were instances in which I would read dialogue from Bailey and not realize it was her speaking because her voice and Hannah’s were so similar.
I appreciate that a lot of detail went into Hannah’s backstory to make her character seem three-dimensional but something just missed the mark for me and she (and Bailey) came off as very flat. Despite the flashbacks to Hannah’s childhood and the relationship with her grandfather, it was all “stated” in a way that was too formal.
My biggest struggle with this book was simply how unrealistic it was. At the beginning, Bailey mentions that she kind of remembers a wedding that she and her dad went to when she was little, and that it could have been in Texas. Hannah then links that to a conversation she had with Owen once where he mentioned possibly going to Austin for work; Hannah decides that based on those two extremely vague memories, that she and Bailey must go to Austin that same day.
This was the moment I started to check out from the book. Once they arrive in Texas, Hannah goes back and forth between encouraging Bailey to dig through her memories to search for clues, and then flipping and telling Bailey that what she remembers doesn’t add. It was as if she wanted Bailey’s help when it was a means to get to Texas, but once there she discounted practically everything Bailey said. Was there ultimately a reason they went to Texas? Yes, but Bailey’s fuzzy memory and Hannah’s remembered conversation that was five words long was not reason enough to send them there.
This book asks the reader to suspend their disbelief pretty much from the very begging. You have to be willing not to question the characters or their actions. It’s very possible that some readers will be able to do that but I wasn’t.
I contemplated not finishing the book because it was so hard to take it seriously. I did end up finishing it, but I can tell you that I wasn’t blown away by any of what happened in the middle or at the end. The ending was open-ended and gave no closure. I was pretty surprised that after the lead up, the story just fizzled out after that.
While I wouldn’t tell anyone to actively avoid this book, I think that it was marketed in a way that may lead readers to believe it is something that it is not. It was a slow-moving story that didn’t have as much character development as the synopsis makes you think that it does. I think that those are significant aspects of a book, often reasons why someone chooses a book, that cannot be overlooked.