THE LAST TRUE POETS OF THE SEA
By: Julia Drake
Published By: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Reading Level: Young Adult
Buy the Book: Amazon
Goodreads Summary: The Larkin family isn't just lucky—they persevere. At least that's what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn't drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.
But wrecks seem to run in the family. Tall, funny, musical Violet can't stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.
Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family's missing piece - the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.
She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.
First Thoughts After Finishing: I want adventure in the great wide somewhere...and I miss the beach!
I am (almost) always a fan of retellings, so when I saw that this was inspired by Twelfth Night and set in a coastal town of Maine, I knew that I needed to read this book. In many ways, this book mirrored the ocean—the story stayed in the shallows until, in moments when you were not expecting it, the continental shelf dropped away and the depths were open for exploration.
Violet is descended from a shipwreck survivor who helped found the town of Lyric, Maine. She is convinced that she has the “shipwreck gene,” that her life is destined to be dashed into pieces on rocks and leave her floundering to recover. And in fact, that hardly seems far-fetched. A teenager at loose in New York City, she makes more than questionable decisions that leave her as emotionally frozen as if she had been the one thrown from safety into icy water rather than her great-great-great-grandmother. While her brother Sam struggles to cope with a mental disorder, Violet turns to the numbness of sex and drugs. After Sam’s suicide attempt, he is sent to treatment in Vermont, and Violet is sent to spend the summer with her uncle in Lyric. The city holds many memories for her, but a return to the past might be exactly what she needs for her family’s future. With the help of friends that she never expected to make, Violet embarks on a quest to uncover the long-lost shipwreck of Lyric and of her family.
Many contemporary stories are character-driven, and The Last True Poets of the Sea is no exception. The book followed the pace of a small coastal town, particularly one that is not overrun by tourists despite the summer season. The plot itself could have been distilled into a fourth of the pages, but the depth of the character development ensured that the book never felt slow. Violet is by turns fascinating and frustrating. I kept hoping for a revelation that would explain her self-destructive path, but one never came. However, this is not to say that her past was not explored. Certain stories were gradually revealed that made me sympathize all the more with Violet’s internal battle to be a better friend, daughter, and sister. She gave words to those feelings that are all too easy to creep in, particularly in an age of disconnectedness. Her brother might be the one with a diagnosis, but the exploration of Violet’s mind highlights how not all struggles come with a name. Throughout the book, her gradual realizations are important reminders for all readers, whether they are teenagers or adults.
One of the highlights of this book is a slow-burn romance with emotions ebbing and flowing like waves lapping the shore. The relationships did not unfold in quite the way I was expecting; in fact, this book probably has one of the best uses of a love triangle that I have seen. For a long time, there were only small eddies of romantic current, but once Violet and Liv were able to admit to themselves and each other how they felt, it was like a tidal wave unleashed—so much feeling but almost over before it seemed like anything had happened. However, I loved the fact that even though there was queer representation, it was not the sole focus of the story. Being attracted to both sexes was only one facet of Violet’s character and hardly the one that defined her, which I appreciated.
Friendships also played an important part in this book, particularly the idea of friendships as an anchor. I loved Violet’s diverse friend group, especially Orion, and I would have enjoyed seeing all of them interact more. Familial relationships also shared the spotlight. The Larkin family dynamic is one that is all too familiar—nothing is necessarily wrong, but at the same time, they are not the happy family they wish to be. I appreciated that there was a process to rebuild relationships; the family was not fixed by a single day or single conversation. Also, Toby may be the best uncle ever—I would like to sign up for his puzzles and pastries!
Despite the engrossing nature of the character development, I do wish a bit more time had been spent uncovering the family genealogy and the shipwreck history rather than reading the unifying thread at the end of the book. Overall, however, this book was a quick read that drew me into the minds of new characters and left me with much to think about. I will look forward to seeing what Julia Drake writes next!
Most Memorable Aspect: Exploring so many timely issues without over-labeling everything.
Julia Drake grew up outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, she played some of Shakespeare's best heroines in her high school theater program and their stories would stay with her forever. She received her BA in Spanish from Williams College, and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She currently works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that fosters love of writing in young adults. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and their rescue rabbit, Ned.
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