TW: discussion of abuse, assault, rape and sexual assault
I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Blurb: Last year, Ollie Morcombe was a star pupil, popular and a gifted musician. Then, after the accident, everything changed. Now he’s an outcast, a prime target of the school bullies who have made his life a living hell. Today – the last day of the school year – he’s brought those bullies a gift. A homemade pipe bomb. What has driven a model student to plan an unspeakable revenge? And with the clock ticking down to home time, what can anybody do to stop him?
Title: Last Lesson
Author: James Goodhand
Publisher: Penguin Children’s, part of the Penguin Random House Group
Genre: Fiction, YA, Contemporary
Ollie’s life has taken a turn for the worse in the past year. He’s being mercilessly bullied by the boys in his class who threaten his life, and that of his grandad and his girlfriend is being targeted by the same boys. His grief after the death of his beloved Aunty Kaye is having to take a back seat but it may be playing a more frontal role than Ollie can get his around…
This book genuinely surprised me, in a good way. It was pretty heavy reading from the beginning (this isn’t a criticism though!) as we see the bullying that Ollie has to deal with on a daily basis but as we progress through the story, there’s much more to it than I ever expected. I’ll try and keep this review spoiler free as not to ruin it but my heart broke several times for Ollie throughout this book as more and more is revealed about his life and the things he has to deal with. The book focuses on Ollie reaching the end of his tether at the end of Year 11 and deciding to bring a bomb to school to get his own kind of justice against his bullies. But, I have to say that the book is so much more than this! Ollie’s life and his motives are much more complicated than we first think. This acts as testament for how effective the writing style was – Ollie constantly battles with the bullying yet doesn’t make a fuss and tries to keep it all to himself yet I didn’t see the twist at the end coming which only adds to how much you feel for him. To read along as he fights tears and feels physically sick at being noticed had me wanting to jump into the pages and help him out. We see the whole story from Ollie’s perspective and it was interesting to read such a vulnerable point of view. Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the structure, it all happens (with the exception of a few flashbacks for context) over the course of one school day and the chapters are marked by the time. This made the pacing flow really well and kept you on the edge of your seat as you saw the time get closer to 3pm.
As for what I disliked, I would note that this book isn’t aimed at the younger end of YA due to the fairly consistent discussion of various triggering/taboo topics (porn, assault and sexual assault, for example) which crop up regularly. Now, we are reading about eighteen-year-old boys so it’s nothing too out of the ordinary I suppose and a lot of it is explained in the end but I’d still place it firmly in an older age group. Once you’ve got your head around how gritty the writing is (hence the tw) there isn’t anything that I’d complain about. My only niggle would be that this book is so much more than a boy who gets bullied and decides his only option is to bring a bomb to school – the discussion of PTSD, mental health and grief forms a key part of the book, especially towards the end and I’d love if that was mentioned in the blurb so that readers experiencing similar things would be able to find some representation that they may otherwise miss. However, I do understand that the big reveal about Ollie’s mental health comes towards the end of the book as a bit of a twist and so I’m assuming that publishers didn’t want to give this away too early.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a raw look at the effects of PTSD in a contemporary setting but please note the trigger warnings before you pick it up.
Recommend?: Yes, if you’re not too fazed by the trigger warnings.
Have you read this book? Or maybe you’ve read something similar? What did you think? I’d love to know!
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