Sunday Reflections: When the Rains Came Down, a reflection on THE LAST BOY AND GIRL IN THE WORLD by Siobhan Vivian
On February 28, 2011, my town flooded. I woke up to the smell of fire and learned that my basement contained both an electrical fire and rapidly rising water. I ran to the front door only to discover that raging, freezing waters were traveling down my street, and they were quickly rising. Above me my six and two year old daughters slept.
A few minutes later two kind strangers knocked on my door and they helped carry my daughters who could not swim through knee high freezing waters – it was winter in Ohio – up to higher ground. We used a strangers phone to call a friend who picked us up on the outside of town while we waited for the waters to recede and our home to be safe again to live in.
Spoiler alert: it never felt safe again.
That night would change our lives forever. We lost 1/3 of our possessions. Because of damage and insurance issues and then later job issues, we would eventually lose our home. Gone were the door frames full of pencil marks that measured the progress of my babies’ growth. Gone was the butterfly bush that we had planted in memory of our lost baby. Gone was the yard where I watched my children play.
What are those memories worth?
To the insurance company, they were worth nothing. And at the time, I lived in the county that the Columbus Dispatch had named the poorest county out of all 88 counties in Ohio.
I went through my childhood, my teen years, and my twenties never hearing really about floods. My children have already been in three (Texas, where we now live, has flooded twice in the last year.)
So I approached The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian with caution. Would it trigger me? Would it anger me with its depiction?
The truth is, I found it utterly compelling, thoughtful and moving.
As I mentioned, my town that flooded was named the poorest county in Ohio. We were already treading water before the flood waters came and sank us. So it was the economic politics of TLBGITW that intrigued me the most. Keeley Hewitt’s town is one of the poorest towns in the state – and it is flooding. So in a callous, politically motivated move, the powers that be decide to sink the town and use it as a reservoir for the state. The residents are to be compensated and moved. Below the reservoir will be the ghostly remains of a town that will simply cease to be. The homes and graves and memories of generations of families no longer matter because they are the town that pays the least amount in state taxes, because their residents are poor and struggling to survive. Their town is deemed not worth saving because the cost of doing so outweighs what they contribute to the state.
What follows is a tale of emotional chaos and desperation. Some residents embrace the opportunity to get out, others are trying to fight to stay. Unsure how to feel, some of the teens find solace in a type of hedonism marked by canoe races down main street and parties in abandoned houses. There is no one right way to handle the news that your hometown will no longer be on the map.
Vivian brings this tale into sharp focus by closing in on the tale of how this impeding loss affects two teens: Keeley and the sheriff’s son. As time runs out and the flood waters begin to rise, their paths are drawn closer and closer together. They are mortal enemies but in the end, as in the beginning, the only thing that remains are these two teens in a small town that is sinking slowly beneath the rising waters. It is the remnant of their lives now seen through the distorted lens of water.
It’s an intriguing tale of local politics, personal pride, friendship and all the challenges that come with it, and what it means to face dramatic change and tragedy when all you want to do is go to the school dance and so much more. It’s also an examination of how different people use different ways to cope with the stress and tragedy of the curve balls that life throws at us. Some of us withdraw. Some of us are moved to protest and political action. Some of us try to hide behind a mask of sarcasm and biting humor.
But what I liked most is that underneath it all, it asks us to consider how we regard disadvantaged among us. Not just individuals, but whole towns.
We live in a time of growing income inequality. People are struggling. Towns are struggling. There are ghost towns left behind. What happens to the families that lived in those towns? What is it like to watch your town dying around you? The Last Boy and Girl in the World reminds us that we need to be asking those questions and paying attention to the answers.
Publisher’s Book Description
What if your town was sliding underwater and everyone was ordered to pack up and leave? How would you and your friends spend your last days together?
While the adults plan for the future, box up their possessions, and find new places to live, Keeley Hewitt and her friends decide to go out with a bang. There are parties in abandoned houses. Canoe races down Main Street. The goal is to make the most of every minute they still have together.
And for Keeley, that means taking one last shot at the boy she’s loved forever.
There’s a weird sort of bravery that comes from knowing there’s nothing left to lose. You might do things you normally wouldn’t. Or say things you shouldn’t. The reward almost always outweighs the risk.
It’s the end of Aberdeen, but the beginning of Keeley’s first love story. It just might not turn out the way she thought. Because it’s not always clear what’s worth fighting for and what you should let become a memory. (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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