Title: The Last Charm
Author: Ella Allbright
Publisher: HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter
Publication date: August 21, 2020
Genre: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Summary: When Leila is eleven, her mum runs out on her family, leaving only a charm bracelet and a single charm behind. Forced to leave her childhood home with her dad, she sullenly looks on as another family moves in, one with it’s own pains and secrets. And a boy a couple of years older named Jake. They form a strange, fragile friendship during the few days before Leila and her dad move away. There’s little contact and communication between them during their adolescence, but, over the next 15 years, their friendship changes and evolves, all of it told through the charms that start to populate Leila’s bracelet.
Jewelry isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but I do adore charm bracelets and the stories they tell. If I could keep one of my wrist, I’d wear one. But I can’t, so I’ll settle for reading about one. That’s why I wanted to read this book. I wanted to know about Leila’s charm bracelet and what it had to say about her life. There were parts that felt agonizing to me, parts that made my cry, and definitely parts where I wanted to scream at Leila and slap some sense into her. It was a crazy roller coaster. Best of all, though, I think this book broke me.
The Characters: Full of Love and Pain
The characters are real and flawed. They keep secrets and hurt each other. But the love they hold for each other always shines through. Leila and Jake have incredible love around them even though they’re both broken.
At the start of the story, Leila is eleven, and Jake two years older than her, and her mum has just abandoned her and her dad. For the next 15 years, we get to know both Leila and Jake, get to see them grow and mature and find themselves. I loved getting to see them turn into teenagers and then mature out of it, though the teen years really annoyed me. Leila annoyed me because she came across as so angry, self-centered, and incredibly spoiled. She made herself out to be a victim because her mum ran off and made it seem like it was okay to take it out on everyone else. It’s for those very reasons that I can’t bring myself to read YA, all those difficult adolescent emotions that seemed to skip right over me so I can never relate. But I knew this book covers 15 years, so I just patiently waited and read on. Her early twenties weren’t much better, but then she has an epiphany scene and becomes so much more bearable and my heart just softened and I fell in love with her.
Then there’s Jake. I think a part of me fell in love with him. He’s amazing and wonderful, too patient and caring. He’s strong, quiet, and supportive, always there for Leila even when she wants to hurt him. He endured so much from her, but really, truly loved her. I sometimes wondered if he only loved her because, in her own way, she saved him when they were kids, but, reading about him and how he felt about her the entire time, I like to think she was just his match in every way, a solid support that she needed while she added color and whimsy to his life. I’m amazed at just how steadfast he was, though he clearly had his own feelings that led to their push and pull relationship. Still, I sometimes wondered what, exactly, he saw in her.
Every other character was wonderful and interesting in their own ways, but Leila and Jake were the stars. I liked getting to know the minor characters as they added to Leila and Jake and helped the reader get to know them better. Almost all of them were supportive, which could have come across as boring, but really highlighted the close relationships. My only problem was that, at the end, characters started popping up that had had some role in the past, but hadn’t been seen until that moment. It was kind of like something just flying by, waving hello, and then disappearing into the ether. Kind of weird.
The Setting: In an Around England
This book mostly takes place around England. The southern shore was mentioned, so I guess it’s set in southern England. But I don’t think it was really necessary to know what part of England it was. The story was really focused on Leila and Jake and their relationship, so I often lost track of where in England it was set. There were, though, a lot of sea-related locations. Both of them had an affinity to the sea, so it was nice to see that theme run through the book.
Mostly, I think the setting was set by how the characters spoke and behaved and how the story was written. It felt quintessentially British, matching many stereotypes I recognize from other books and movies, like the openness about having sex and the drinking that seems heavy at early ages and then tapers off into something a bit more refined. In general, it was just impossible to think of this book being set anywhere but the UK. I was, being American, a little perplexed by some of the words and phrases, but I like to think it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book.
The Plot: A Story in Charms
This is the story of Leila telling someone named Caitlin about how she received every charm on her bracelet. See, prior to the start of the novel, Leila had lost her bracelet and it was found by someone named Caitlin who wanted to know the story about the charms to be persuaded the bracelet was actually Leila’s. So, Leila starts writing back and tells the entire story of how she received every charm, which twined around her relationship with Jake.
I have to admit that, at first, I didn’t find this story to be terribly exciting. It skipped ahead through time to the points when Leila received each charm with mentioning here and there what had happened during the intervening time. Jake and Leila’s childhoods seemed to be on fast forward, so it was difficult to really get to know either of them. But, by the last third, I was hooked and fully invested in their relationship.
This may be the story about a charm bracelet, but it’s also a love story. It’s full of animosity, misunderstanding, and omission of information. There’s a lot of hurt and there’s a lot of love. It took getting past the adolescent years for me to see this, to really form my own opinion about them and see the book for what it is even though I knew about it going in. I had a hard time with Leila, which really impacted my enjoyment of the book, but, by the time she was an adult and starting to mature, she began to steal my heart almost as much as Jake had already done so.
This is beautiful book. Yes, the beginning was annoying to me, but it grew on me. I began to fall in love with Leila and Jake and really wanted to see how the story would end for them. I had a feeling it would end like it did, but really hoped I was going to be wrong. The end shattered me. I don’t cry often when I read, but the tears weren’t something I could stop, and I tried. Overall, this book chugged along at a good pace, all of it leading up to the tear-worthy end.
There was so much packed into this book, from the uneasy beginning of their friendship to the love they discover over 15 years. Like I said earlier, this book broke me. It made me annoyed and frustrated. It made me fall for Jake and want to slap Leila. It made my heart hurt for both of them. It made me sad when they couldn’t find ways to communicate. It made me happy when they held hands. After that kind of roller coaster, one that made me so emotionally entangled in the lives of two fictional people, I couldn’t do anything but feel broken in half. It’s beautiful.
P.S. The end of the book occurs in March 2020. Would have been fun if COVID-19 had been thrown in as the fictional time is startling at odds with reality, but I suppose this book was written and set for publication well before. Still, might have been interesting!
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