Kayla returns home from a forced summer vacation, wanting nothing more than to pick up her life where she left it. She's supposed to have been recovering from the car accident culmination of an end-of-school party gone awry, but her small town hasn't recovered in her absence. It seems her home will turn against her whether or not she tells what she knows, about the accident, the death, or the rape she was unlucky enough to witness moments before.
Oh, that's a huge spoiler, by the way. And it's on the back cover. More on that in a minute.
For the first third of the book, nothing happens. That is, Kayla comes home in the present timeline to find herself frozen out by her beloved town and friends, and in the interspersed pre-party timeline, we get to see her seemingly perfect life and friendships as they were before. That, and the slow hints at what happened to change the one timeline into the other, are all that fill the whole first act of the book. This might be fine, if there were any of the apparently intended suspense to those hints, but as mentioned above, anyone who reads the blurb before the book, as most of us do, already knows the gist of the mysterious tragedy going in, and with that jumping off point, most of the details fall into place fairly clearly within a few chapters. It's not wondering what happened that tempts turning the page; it's waiting for it to be dealt with. And that's a long wait.
Since the door's open to the real subject matter, though, I’ll say that Kayla's internal musings on sexual double-standards and violence are a little clinical and by-the-numbers. Apt, intelligent, and deeply important, yes, but it would have been nice to see them expressed in a more freshly personal, character-based way, as opposed to in the same words that might be used in many a sexual harassment seminar.
Refer back to the apt, intelligent, and deeply important part. On-the-nose as its direct analyses can be, Every Last Promise has its heart firmly in the right place when it comes to the issues of the shaming, devaluing and discrediting of girls, both directly related to the rape plotline and in the constant, seemingly minor other ways (seriously, who wants to be caught caring about something called a Powderpuff game?). These are things that can't be said enough, even if in the same words.
Kayla's love for her home and her dread of the inevitable change at the end of high school is also well played. The countdown to adulthood is a mix of anticipation of new beginnings fear of endings, and since heroes tend to be of the more driven and ambitious type, the latter element is less often expired, and it's well captured here. The style of the writing itself is moody and immersive and occasionally startlingly poetic. All around a sad, solid, if somewhat slow read.
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