Have you ever read a book that legitimately shook you to your core, so much that it was all you could think about for at least 24 hours after you finished it? That was what happened to me once I finished Rebecca Yarros’ hauntingly beautiful novel, The Last Letter.
Serving overseas is all Beckett Gentry knows. He has no loved ones waiting for him, no roots calling him home. So when his best friend, Ryan, suggests that Beckett let his sister Ella write him some letters, Beckett is hesitant. For security reasons, he has her write to him under his call name “Chaos”, also hoping that that will allow no real connections to be made. But that doesn’t stop Ella from opening up to him about her hardships as a single, twenty-something mother of twins; she soon becomes his everything, and he similarly becomes a source of solace and comfort for her as her world continues to fall out of orbit.
But things change when Ryan is killed in the line of duty. The letters from “Chaos” stop around the same time, so Ella presumes the worst has happened to him as well. A few months later after the last letter, Beckett shows up at Solitude, the bed and breakfast Ella runs. With him is a letter from Ryan, asking him to go take care of Ella in Telluride if he never made it home. So Beckett plans to follow through with this simple request. But when he gets there, he can’t utter the words he’s dying to say: that he is actually “Chaos.”
Yarros’ novel kept me engaged from the first page. I found her choice to start each chapter with a letter from the other person extremely captivating, especially because you soon start to realize that each letter thematically corresponds to each chapter despite technically being two different points of view from two different time periods. It just works so well. I also loved that Yarros was able to build an incredibly fascinating world with the level of detail and picturesque imagery she put into this book; I could easily see every scene play out in my head, just as if it were a movie.
But in order for you to fully grasp why this new novel, from a writer I had never even heard of before, means so much to me, I need to get a little personal. When I read my advance copy back in November, I had just found out devastating news about my Grandfather. Although he had had Alzheimer’s for years, he was sick enough now to be admitted into the hospital. I was also going through an extremely busy time at work and desperately needed an escape from the hell my reality had become. So I turned to this book, hoping it would provide just that. While this book shattered my heart into pieces for reasons I won’t spoil (you honestly just have to experience the ending for yourself), it also brought light and love back into my world as I saw parts of my grandparents’ own love story on the pages of Yarros’ novel.
Like Beckett and Ella, my grandparents were set up as pen pals through a mutual friend and wrote letters for two and a half years while my Grandfather was stationed overseas in Korea. They, too, fell in love with each other through words on a page. Also similar to Beckett and Ella’s love story, the first thing my Grandfather did when he got back to the states was going to visit my Grandmother in Virginia. Although, unlike Beckett, my Grandfather had roots in the northeast, he felt as though the first thing he needed to do was go and visit the girl whose words had left such an impact on him. A month and a half after that first in person visit they were engaged. They would have been married 64 years today.
I was lucky enough to have witnessed my grandparents’ love story for 23 years before my grandfather passed. Even though it’s fiction, this novel reminded me how lucky I was to have been a small part of a love story so grand and so spectacular that I forgot it could happen in real life too.
I know not everyone will be able to relate to Yarros’ novel in the way that I can. But I know it will somehow leave a mark on your souls, just like it did mine.