Leave ‘Only Kid Left’ Behind

I did it.

I finally did it.

Last year, as I was starting this project, I ordered a bunch of the books I couldn’t find at my library and didn’t already have. (Fitting, then, that I’m posting this on the one-year anniversary of this blog.) One of the first to arrive from that inaugural batch of books was The Last Kid Left by Rosencrans Baldwin, and I was so excited because the premise had so many things I love in a good story.

We have: switching perspective. Yes.

We have: a straightforward murder mystery that doesn’t stay straightforward for long. Yes.

We have: misunderstood teens and angsty romance. Oh yes.

We have: a running commentary on how social media and the race for breaking news can skew a story.

So much. It had so much promise.

I opened it up almost immediately after it arrived, so the fact that I only just finished it should be pretty telling about what I thought. But just in case it isn’t, allow me to explain.

Police responding to a car crash arrest the driver, 19-year-old Nick, when they find two bodies in the trunk. He says nothing beyond a confession of the double murder. His 16-year-old girlfriend, Emily, tries in vain to reach him in jail. Her father, the sheriff, from whom Emily and Nick have gone to great lengths to hide their relationship, is intent on seeing if Nick will crack and change his story. Martin, an ex-cop investigating the case for the defense, smells something fishy about the whole thing.

As the case progresses through the slow-turning wheels of justice, Emily’s attempts to connect with Nick take on a life of their own when she poses for racy pictures–which are leaked by an unscrupulous classmate. An out-of-work journalist, Leela, heads back to her hometown to ferret a story out of the case and its star-crossed lovers in an attempt to catch the eye of a certain New York magazine known for its prose. And amid the flood of attention turned to the once-sleepy town, nobody seems to know what really happened on the night of the murders.

And it all sounds so good, so very, very good. But for some reason, this book went so very slow for me. Each time I picked it up, I couldn’t get more than a few pages before getting distracted and setting it down again. Because as interesting as the premise is and how engaging the writing and characters can be at times, overall it’s slow and a little confusing.

If anyone ever says I’m bad at committing, I will simply produce this book.

Honestly, it might be in part the fault of the chapter formatting. Rather than numbered chapters, the book was separated by stages of the legal proceedings, more or less. Not that we got into the courtroom, which I guess is fair because this isn’t a legal drama. Rather, they are filled with glimpses behind the scenes, those little domestic moments, that show how the characters are faring. Not well, is generally the answer. But within the spectrum of “not well” is a whole cast of side characters, leads that go nowhere, leads that go somewhere but we’re not told explicitly where. It’s a character-driven work, sure, and I’m positive that was Baldwin’s intent, but the characters all got muddled together like a packet of Skittles that got stuffed in someone’s pocket at the beginning of a road trip and weren’t found until reaching the motel. Except in this case, the individual flavors of the Skittles actually matter. So maybe like a packet of M&Ms. Yeah. M&Ms.

A risk with character-driven stories is that often that comes at the expense of pacing, which I’ve realized lately is an element in storytelling I tend to be pretty picky about. So this may be my pickiness talking, but so much of the story started to drag, and when it finally started to pick up in the final third or so, the switch to another character slowed it down yet again. That isn’t supposed to happen with shifting points of view. If anything, alternative perspectives are supposed to help keep momentum going by providing other sources of tension when you have a release in one storyline. But in The Last Kid Left, all of the threads just seemed intent on knotting with each other to make me stop and think awful hard about whatever inner point of contention presently before me.

It’s totally possible I’m missing something. Some of the confusion absolutely could have been from my reading experience stretching so long, and it had to be interesting enough to keep me reading for almost an entire year (though pride, too, is a powerful motivator). But at the same time, I cannot be accused of not taking the time to mull over my thoughts on this book. And I don’t like it. But I’m glad that I finally finished it—the page where I listed it is now almost completely crossed out, with just one more title left to go.

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