The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman – Review by Dana Murphy
It was late at night when I started reading. My daughters, Maddie and Katie, were asleep in their bedrooms upstairs. Our house was almost silent, except for the occasional crackle of the icemaker or the creak of a windowpane.
I started to read, not knowing I would be awake for the next four hours as I told myself over and over ‘just one more chapter.’
The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman opens with Samantha (age 7), her sister ‘Turtle’ (age 4), and their neighbor and friend, Remy, in the basement of Sam and Turtle’s house. Their parents are enjoying a party upstairs, laughing and drinking, while the kids get ready to sleep downstairs.
Maybe it was that Sam and Turtle reminded me of my own sister and myself when we were kids. Turtle is crying because Sam won’t play with her, but eventually Sam feels bad and cuddles with Turtle as she falls asleep. A very similar scene had replayed itself in my childhood countless times, and I thought of all those nights in our shared childhood bedroom. Or maybe it was that Sam and Turtle reminded me of my own Maddie and Katie, especially the way Turtle clutches her teddy bear, Boris, everywhere she goes. I pictured my Katie, clutching her beloved blankie to her chest every morning as she comes down the stairs. Or maybe it was my silent house or the late hour. Whatever it was, something sent shivers down my spine on page eight when Sam hears the basement patio doors click open and sees a stranger enter the house.
“I heard him slowly unzip Turtle’s sleeping bag and lift her small, sleeping form into his arms, but I still could not force myself to move or scream. I wanted to more than anything, but I couldn’t…. Turtle and Boris were gone. I didn’t know it yet, but one of them was never coming home.”
I just had to find out what happened. Who took Turtle? Was she still alive? Why didn’t Sam or Remy cry or scream? Could they have saved Turtle?
Would Maddie scream if she saw someone sneak into our house and take Katie? Would she just lie there and watch it happen?
The novel picks up ten years later and tells Sam’s story, as she continues trying to understand the events of that night. Sam and her family have returned to their hometown, to the town they lived in when Turtle disappeared. We see the effect the trauma has taken on Sam’s family, and we watch Sam and Remy become reacquainted. Slowly, the events of that night begin to resurface as Sam and Remy try to make sense of Turtle’s disappearance
The novel alternates between the time of Turtle’s disappearance and ten years later. Jessica Warman’s storytelling will leave you guessing and wondering throughout the whole story. You will meet many characters along the way, and you will likely suspect each of them in turn. When you reach the final pages of the story, you may think you know the identity of Turtle’s kidnapper. You may be on the final pages, and you may think the story is over. You may. Just keep reading.
For the sake of not writing a spoiler here, all I can tell you is when I reached the last paragraph, the last sentence… I stared in disbelief. What the…? Did she…? Does this mean…? Who is…? The next day, I found a fellow Nerdy friend and thrust the book into her hands. “Read this so we can talk,” I told her.
Oh, and I immediately went up the stairs to check on Maddie and Katie.
Dana Murphy is an instructional coach in Woodridge, IL. She is a lifetime member of the Nerdy Book Club and has already inducted her daughters as well. This isn’t the first time she has stayed up too late reading, and it won’t be the last. Dana is co-author of the Two Writing Teachers blog and tweets at @DanaMurphy143.