Every time I dive into a new book, I immediately try to determine the excerpt that will drive my students to pick it up. Sometimes it’s the very first page, and other times it’s a great scene from within. With Brendan Kiely’s new novel, The Last True Love Story (September 13th), I’ll have to think long and hard about this. I fell in love with so many aspects of this book, from the various love stories to the classic rock music references.
The story begins with Teddy Hendrix–the main character and narrator–who is a good kid, but a bit lost. He doesn’t really have any true family except his paternal grandfather, Gpa, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. His mother is always away for work, so Teddy is the one who sees his Gpa losing his mind more and more each day. The decision to watch Gpa deteriorate was not a difficult one, for Teddy loves him and the stories he tells about his grandmother. Gma was the love of Gpa’s life, and one thing Teddy does know is that he wants to write all these stories down in the Hendrix Family Book (HFB) before Gpa’s mind goes and he loses these stories forever. One day, however, sweet, thoughtful, Teddy does the unthinkable. He asks Corrina, the girl he has a crush on, to help him spring Gpa from the Calypso Sunrise Suites Assisted Living Facility. Corrina, who is just looking for a reason to run away, takes him up on it. They steal his mother’s car, and decide to drive across the country to Ithaca, NY, where Gpa and Gma first began their love story.
From the very first chapter, Kiely does an impeccable job of bringing the reader inside the mind of a man debilitated by Alzheimer’s. Gpa can have a delightful conversation owith Teddy one minute, and the next minute he is upset and calling Teddy his son’s name, Jake. Gpa’s biggest fear is that he will completely forget Gma and their history together, so he constantly looks to Teddy for assistance. The solution Teddy comes up with is writing down all the stories that Gpa shares, word for word. Kiely smoothly weaves Gpa’s stories in, and it’s through these flashbacks that one can see the true love Gpa and GMa had for one another. Throughout their journey, it becomes apparent that Teddy is struggling with more than just his aging grandfather. Since Teddy’s own father is no longer around, Teddy uses the road trip as another means to gain new information about him from Gpa. Thus, this epic road trip becomes a way for both Gpa and Teddy to gain new information they have desperately sought.
Corrina, a tough girl with demons of her own, brings with her the novel’s musical soundtrack. Her great taste in classic rock flows throughout the novel with everything from Van Morrison to Creedence Clearwater Revival. Even her name is a reference to the Bob Dylan song, “Corrina, Corrina.” Corrina is on the road trip for a different reason though: to find her miracle, or her musical ticket out of her current life. One of the many memorable scenes is when Corrina is mocked when singing in a park. I imagine this “heckling” to be quite similar to a scene in the movie Forrest Gump when Jenny is singing “Candle in the Wind.” Corrina is much stronger than Jenny though, and ended up getting back at the source of her embarrassment a few pages later. Eventually, her own love story with Teddy begins: “She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, quickly and lightly, but between those lips was the entirety of the night before, and I was there again, alive and alert and alone in the tent with Corrina and the rest of the world in a still and quiet darkness beyond us” (177). Simply beautiful.
Like all of Kiely’s other novels, I’m sure The Last True Love Story will be a hit in my classroom. Whether I read the scene where Teddy, Gpa, and Corrina skip town, or I choose the scene where Corrina makes a mockery of her former flame, I know my kids will certainly fall in love with it just as I did.