Okay, first off, this book was so sweet. Even though it only took place during one night, the night was filled so well with different emotions, moods, and tones, so it really did feel like a complete story. Also, the whole time I was reading this book, I was thinking about the song The Night Before (Life Goes On) by Carrie Underwood. The resemblance between the two story lines is uncanny!
It’s the last night before Clare and Aidan leave for college, so it’s the night to decide: do they stay together or break up? Clare leads them on an elaborate scavenger hunt of their memories, trying to look in their past to decide their future. It’s a night of goodbyes, to friends, families, and places, but also a night of hellos, to new beginnings, and fresh starts. As they get closer and closer to morning, Clare and Aidan must choose if it’s going to be goodbye for now or goodbye forever.
You know how you’re reading a book, and the main character kinda jumps out at you from nowhere and you’re like: that’s me. This main character is me. This is my book soulmate. Clare is my book soulmate. Everything, from her insecurities, to her thoughts, to her actions, was easily something I would’ve felt, thought, or done if I was in her story.
“Because that’s how she felt when she was with him- like she’d been a rock her whole life, ordinary and dull, and it wasn’t until she met him that something cracked open inside her, and just like that, she began to shine.”
She’s very nostalgic. She literally plans a walk down memory lane for her and her boyfriend on their last night together. Like that is just so me! And she likes to have a plan, a plan for everything. Even though logically I understand that spontaneity is necessary sometimes, and it’s good to dive into the unknown, I get her. She’s scared of the unknown, because she likes the known, and she’s comfortable in the known. So she plans, so everything is known to her. I connected instantly to her, because I related to her so much, which really elevated my review of the book. It felt like this story could easily be my story, in an alternate universe.
Something so amazing about the way Jennifer E. Smith writes is that even though we only knew Aidan and Clare for one night, one night in their entire story together, I felt like I knew their whole relationship. I think it’s because the whole premise of the story is set against the backdrop of remembering their past together, so it was a clever way to introduce their relationship to us while moving the story forward. And their relationship is so natural. I guess when you’ve been dating someone for two years, that’s what happens, but they seemed to reach that level of intimacy of an old married couple but still preserve the excitement and butterflies of a first love. The two of them just couldn’t get enough of each other, and not even in a PDA way. They wanted to know about each other’s days, thoughts, brains, feelings, just really know the person inside and out.
“She shakes her head. ‘I can’t think of a single good reason to break up with you right now.’
‘That’s because you’re not thinking big enough,’ he says. ‘It’s gotta be something huge, something grand.’
‘Like world peace?’
‘If world peace were a possible side effect of you breaking up with me, then yes, sure, that would definitely count as a noble reason.’
‘Maybe,” she says after a moment, ‘it’s just that we love each other too much.'”
Another thing I loved about this story was the friendships. Aidan and Scotty, Clare and Stella, it seemed like an unlikely combination, but they meshed. But again, this is the last night before they go to college, so there is some tension, as they have to figure out how to say goodbye to each other. One of Smith’s skills, like I mentioned above, was turning this one night into an entire story, and the friendship dynamics is a huge part of that. She reveals a whole breath of emotion in each of their dynamics, as formally easy going friendships turned strained as each doesn’t want to say goodbye, and then how they mend as they realize there’s only one more night together. They all fight (s0me physically), but at the end they realize that they’re taking out their pent up anxiety on each other. They are mad at each other, but it’s like that anger you hold towards a passed away loved one: it’s kind of irrational, but valid. And there isn’t anything you can do but forgive yourself for it. And just like how we got to know Aidan and Clare’s full story in one night, we learn the ins and outs of each of their friendships.
“Right now, together with her best and oldest friends in the deepest part of a late-summer night, she can think of only one thing harder [than another ending]: a new beginning.”
I think the main reason I connected to this story so much is because it’s all very close to me. I’m a junior in high school, so my time to go to college and leave my friends and what I’ve known my entire life behind is coming. And that scares me. I don’t want to leave my friends and make new ones, and grow apart. But I know it’s something you have to do in your lifetime, so I’m sure my last night will be a lot like this one. A walk down memory lane, spending time with those I love, getting a little angry at each other, but loving each other the whole time. Watching these characters grapple with the same fears and panics that I am already starting to feel really affected me because I know that will be me soon.
“For a long time, it had felt like something way out on the horizon, this moment, something she had to squint to make out, so far away it didn’t seem quite real. Until now, when it’s suddenly hurtling toward them at an impossible pace, so swiftly that it doesn’t matter whether or not Clare is ready for it. There’s no preparing at this point. There’s only steeling yourself. There’s only hoping for the best.”
I really loved this book because in a way, it told a simple story that we all experience: how to say goodbye to those we love. It’s a quick read about letting go and saying goodbye, and how just because a relationship ends doesn’t mean you don’t love each other. And so often, romance books are about the beginning: the why, the how, the start of everything. But this told the end, so we could see how they’ve grown, how it was true, and how to continue after.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Which do you think is harder: saying goodbye for the last time or saying hello for the first time?