Last Seen Leaving, by Caleb Roehrig

The awfulness of this book isn’t in the weak mystery or the secondary story of coming out and finding love in high school. The awfulness lays at the feet of some really bad¬†writing that doesn’t let up from start to finish. Stiff language, weird similes (“like watching a cat running up a tree, I couldn’t seem to stop it”), strange descriptions (“the room tilt-a-whirling around me in a nauseating square dance”), and bizarre dialogue.

This says nothing to a poor mystery at the core of the book in which a closeted gay high school student learns that his girlfriend January has disappeared. When the criminal is exposed the reader could fairly feel more than a little cheated from the lack of clues, and when the narrator/lead character Flynn confronts the murderer the person’s actions and speech are over the top. That says nothing about an ending that doesn’t seem to fit anything in the book.

The book is targeted to grades 9 and up. Listen, I support “it gets better” and I believe kids at that age sorting out gender issues deserve books with identifiable heroes. I also believe they deserve well-written books and have trouble understanding why a publisher with the heft of Macmillan would put out such a poorly edited book. The gay friends I had in high school (40 years ago but still …) were reading William Goldman, Carson McCullers, E.L. Doctorow, and William Styron. A book like this wouldn’t have drawn them in past the first chapter.