Every Last One is about a mother with three teenage children. They all have very realistic teenage concerns and dramas. There’s depression in the mix, an eating disorder, relationship problems, very well-written dynamics between the kids and their friends and significant others and how they all interplay. Mary Beth’s marriage isn’t really the point but there’s also some very subtle but very real commentary on being married for a long time. The parents are each doing their best to figure out how to effectively parent three teenagers – when to push, when to give them space. Mistakes are made but all of them feel extremely ordinary. Mary Beth (their mom) has her eye one particular situation that worries her when another situation hits her like a speeding train and completely upends her life in the worst possible way. That’s putting it pretty mildly, but I don’t want to say too much. Suffice it to say – there are several different things that could go wrong here. They could all plausibly go fine, too. None of them are on an inevitable collision course, but all of them are worrisome. Only one of them really does go wrong.
The caveat to this book is not entirely a bad thing. It’s this: the structure is very strange. The first half is Mary Beth living her life, washing the dishes, parenting her children, interacting with her peers, going to work. Her worries are the constant background noise. None of them overshadow her normal routine, they’re just interwoven into it in a way that is so real, it basically defines parenting. Then the thing happens. Then her new life, without any particularly compelling plot. Then the end. It’s strange. The reason I say it’s not a bad thing is that as odd and somewhat boring-sounding as it is, I absolutely could not put this book down. The normal-life feeling is what makes the thing so totally devastating. You feel it as she would. You care about these people like you’ve been a guest in their house for a few months, then boom. Then you still care how they find their footing. It’s an unbearable gut punch sandwiched by months of life that’s so, so, so real. You see where they went wrong, but you bought the reasons they made the mistakes as they were making them. You probably didn’t even register them as mistakes.
Needless to say, I recommend it.