Book Review: The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

Expected publication: January 11th 2022 by St. Martin’s Press

About the book: When Kayla Carter’s husband dies in an accident while building their dream house, she knows she has to stay strong for their four-year-old daughter. But the trophy home in Shadow Ridge Estates, a new development in sleepy Round Hill, North Carolina, will always hold tragic memories. But when she is confronted by an odd, older woman telling her not to move in, she almost agrees. It’s clear this woman has some kind of connection to the area…and a connection to Kayla herself. Kayla’s elderly new neighbor, Ellie Hockley, is more welcoming, but it’s clear she, too, has secrets that stretch back almost fifty years. Is Ellie on a quest to right the wrongs of the past? And does the house at the end of the street hold the key? Told in dual time periods, The Last House on the Street is a novel of shocking prejudice and violence, forbidden love, the search for justice, and the tangled vines of two families.

My thoughts: :

Current state of mind as of 6/14/2022: I published this review on December 6, 2021 and left it up for a while. Then I sent it back to my drafts. I rarely do that and I’m still undecided if I made the right decision. Maybe that is why I’m adding it to my blog roll again. First reactions are just that. First reactions, Though, having read through it again, I still stand on my beliefs about many of the things I stated.

Overtime, one looks back and reflects past opinions. Are they right? What is right or true? Or what is wrong? Or maybe there are layers of truth because we tend to see or experience differently Whatever the case, we must learn from them in order to grow. I want to go back and flesh this review on a score or two, and I feel that many will take what I wrote originally, in a negative way and run with it. Or make all sorts of false assumptions. That said, that really isn’t my problem but I question what am I really trying to convey in this review? With the current state of things, there is so much on my mind. Maybe, I should go back and re-read the story. I don’t know at this point. At the present, my Kindle has given out on me and I cannot get to my review e-books. My current feeling is to maybe to go back and review my notes. Going forward with this post. I caution the reader. Be mindful of what I just stated and what I wrote in the review.

Original review:

I love a story with dual time lines but I must say, each story must be equally compelling and the connections strong. Despite my misgivings about Ellie’s characterization, I felt her story-line, as a young lady and what she experienced with SCOPE, her relationship the young man Win and her family was considerably more engrossing than Kayla’s story. While in the modern-day story, loose ends were tied up, the story felt awkwardly told throughout. I understand why the author chose to use a dual timeline, but I couldn’t help feel the 1960’s story-line would have been enough, if fleshed out.

I do believe the story is relevant to the times and my emotions were flying high while reading this story. I detest racism in any form and while there is important historical relevance of the period, I felt the “white privilege narrative” in Ellie’s case to be an agenda pushed due to our current state and how racism is portrayed today. That seems to be the norm in our society and personally, I’m tired of it all. It does absolutely nothing to heal hearts, nor does it make a positive impact for all cultures concerned. The narrative at times, is polarizing and just adds more fuel to the flames of discontent and division. That said, I am not diminishing a person’s right to telling a fictional story in how they see fit and I do realize the historical significance of the times…But Ellie’s “guilt” for her whiteness really bothered me.

It was sad to see Ellie questioning her own creation and felt this intense burden for being white and what she felt as a privileged life. Guilty by what many would consider association because of her skin color and where she was born? No. I wanted to tell her she is who she-like anyone is- by the way she lives her life, her belief system and how she treats herself and others. The privileges she felt she was born with because of her ethnicity doesn’t make her culpable. Furthermore, acknowledging racism, doesn’t nor shouldn’t require a certain skin color to be made to feel guilty, though as society shows, it happens more times than not.

Ellie recognized the oppression of the black community and wanted to take part in making a change. While she was not responsible for creating the broken and unjust system, she felt strongly about her decision to take a stand and made a huge sacrifice that cost her and all parties involved a devastating loss. Powerful and emotional story-telling there…Chamberlain brilliantly portrayed cause and effect.

My feelings about how the story was told is not to say I don’t have interest in reading about civil rights and different views on social issues. Nor am I denying it’s existence. Far from it…My issue fully lies in the manner in how Ellie’s ethnicity was portrayed. That said, I rallied on and read the story all the way through.

There were a few scenes in the story where I felt there was missed opportunities and in truth, to my dismay, I felt no connections to any of the characters. To put my complaints aside and a rocky start, I became invested in the story, and the development of Ellie’s growth and experiences with SCOPE. Many aspects were gut-wrenching, poignant, and heartfelt. I have no doubt many readers will find this story extraordinary.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy of this book from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.