Title: Last Seen Leaving (2016)
Author: Caleb Roehrig
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller
Extent: 336 pages
Release Date: October 4, 2016
Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.
But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.
Last Seen Leaving reminds me of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, albeit a rather watered down version of it. The stakes aren’t as high. The characters aren’t as complex. The evil is more predictable. Plot-wise, there are similarities as well: missing girl makes national news, their love interest comes under scrutiny, volunteers search the surrounding areas and find clues that turn out to be red herrings, and there’s more to the story than just a person’s disappearance.
Our main character is Flynn, January’s boyfriend, the narrator of the story, and overall a good guy. I found him mostly likeable, though I don’t always understand his actions or decisions. The second lead, arguably, is January, who gets introduced to us by way of Flynn’s memories as well as his conversations with other people. There’s also Kaz, January’s co-worker at a toy store (who happens to be a Muslim!), Flynn’s parents, January’s family, and January’s friends. I… actually don’t have much to say about these people, except that I think they were quite effectively and efficiently used in the story.
“I spent the rest of the day with Tiana’s words ringing ominously in my ears, even while I tried not to let them get to me. I couldn’t just give up and believe that January was never coming back. Like the cops, Ti had avoided using the M word — murder — but I knew she must have been thinking it. Kidnapping only ends one of two ways.”
The story is told from Flynn’s perspective and stays mostly in the present timeline, though occasionally it’ll dive back into a past memory in the middle of the chapter. Some people might find this style of narration choppy and ordinarily I would as well, but somehow this time it worked for me. I attribute this to Roehrig’s simple, straightforward writing style — his is the kind of writing that doesn’t make you work to understand what is happening, the kind of writing that honestly makes it easy for you to breeze through the book.
Mystery-wise, however, Last Seen Leaving kind of fails. What actually happens to January is not new, unique, or mind-blowing at all, and as soon as Flynn starts getting closer to the answer, the book fumbles and loses the majority of its suspense. His ‘truth’ (mentioned in the blurb, hinted in the genre — basically [spoiler] that he’s gay [/end spoiler]) is also unremarkable and pretty much told to us in chapter one, thereby lessening the tension. The evil looks and sounds evil. The good looks and sounds good. The life lessons are predictable. It’s all very ‘been there, done that’.
“… but you’ll never be happy if you have to spend the rest of your life lying to people. And if he can’t accept you for who you are, then he’s not really your friend to begin with. Besides, there’s always a little bit of pain when you grow.”
There are so many loose ends too, leaving some questions gaping open with no chance of the reader knowing the answer, for example: [spoiler] What of January’s creepy stepbrother, who goes around snooping in her room and asking Flynn where January keeps her underwear? What of the things that the stepbrother says about January — was he lying? What of January’s stepfather? Does January’s mother know the truth? [/end spoiler] There is a twist nearing the end of this book that for me came across as a little unrealistic. All these things are not necessarily terrible, but they are unsatisfying in the context of this book.
Ultimately, Last Seen Leaving was a fast, generally enjoyable read for me, just not an unforgettable one. This is my first contemporary YA thriller in a while and now I realise I miss the genre, though, so take what you will from that. 🙂
* I received an ARC of LAST SEEN LEAVING from Macmillan and NetGalley in exchange for a honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion of the book.
Interested in purchasing Last Seen Leaving? 💙