Always the Last to KnowAlways the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins
Published by Berkley on June 9, 2020
Pages: 396
View Title on Goodreads
Bantering Books Rating: four-stars

Sometimes you have to break a family to fix it.

From New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins, a new novel examining a family at the breaking point in all its messy, difficult, wonderful complexity.

The Frosts are a typical American family. Barb and John, married almost fifty years, are testy and bored with each other...who could blame them after all this time? At least they have their daughters-- Barb's favorite, the perfect, brilliant Juliet; and John's darling, the free-spirited Sadie. The girls themselves couldn't be more different, but at least they got along, more or less. It was fine. It was enough.
Until the day John had a stroke, and their house of cards came tumbling down.
Now Sadie has to put her career as a teacher and struggling artist in New York on hold to come back and care for her beloved dad--and face the love of her life, whose heart she broke, and who broke hers. Now Juliet has to wonder if people will notice that despite her perfect career as a successful architect, her perfect marriage to a charming Brit, and her two perfect daughters, she's spending an increasing amount of time in the closet having panic attacks.
And now Barb and John will finally have to face what's been going on in their marriage all along.
From the author of Good Luck with That and Life and Other Inconveniences comes a new novel of heartbreaking truths and hilarious honesty about what family really means.

Bantering Books Review

Families are complicated. And messy. And secretive. And frustrating. Aren’t they?

Take, for example, the members of the Frost family, the protagonists of Always the Last to Know, Kristan Higgins’ latest novel.

John and Barb, married nearly 50 years, have grown apart over time and no longer seem to like each other very much. They are barely more than strangers, living in the same house, with the shared love they have for their two daughters, Juliette and Sadie, being the only remaining tether that binds them.

Juliette, the elder daughter and Barb’s favorite, appears to have it all – a wonderful husband, two healthy daughters, an outstanding career as an architect. She wants for nothing. But no one knows that she is experiencing a mid-life crisis, of sorts, and has taken to hiding in the closet, overcome by relentless panic attacks.

Sadie, the free spirit and John’s favorite, lives contentedly in New York, struggling to carve out a career as an artist while also teaching art at an elementary school. She is hoping to soon marry her wonderful boyfriend, even though she can’t quite shake the memory of her first love, Noah.

Life may not be perfect for the four Frosts, but they are plugging along, somewhat happily enough, with various levels of satisfaction. That is, until tragedy strikes by way of John having a stroke. Suddenly, their happy-enough lives are in a state of shocking upheaval, and they all must come to terms with their own personal inner truths that they have fought so hard to ignore.

Somehow or other, I have never before read a novel by Kristan Higgins. I’m not quite sure how this has happened, seeing as I have read my own fair share of Women’s Fiction over the years. But at any rate, Always the Last to Know will most certainly not be the last of her novels that I read, as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The beginning of the novel, however, is a little rough. From the first few chapters, I initially believed it to be another averagely written, nothing-special story with flattish, not-very-developed characters. Barb is a bitter pill, selfish, and unlikable. Juliette is too perfect and unkind to her sister. Sadie is stubborn and somewhat annoying. And John – well, he is not the poster boy for perfect husbands.

But then somewhere before the halfway mark, I noticed a shift within myself. My ambivalence to the story disappeared. My annoyance with the characters dissipated. And I surprisingly discovered that I was wholly engrossed in the narrative and invested in the Frost family. I found that I genuinely cared for and empathized with John, Barb, Juliette, and Sadie.

I am uncertain as to what exactly it is about the novel that precipitates this change. I am struggling to identify it. All I know is that my irritation switched to delight, and I suppose, in the end, that is what truly matters.

What is especially appealing about Always the Last to Know is how Higgins shows us that families come in all shapes and sizes — and the true definition of family is not necessarily limited by blood. She illustrates how a family, over time, can expand to include other surprising, non-traditional members and be so enriched by this growth. It’s quite heartwarming.

And how can one write about family without also writing about love? It’s virtually impossible. The two subjects are inexorably linked.

But what I admire about Higgins and the story is how she doesn’t only focus on familial and romantic love. Always the Last to Know is also about the love between two best friends. It’s about the love between two platonic co-parents of a child. It’s about the respectful love between two women who share a mutual, albeit slightly different, love for the same man.

Through her writing, Higgins skillfully captures love in all its many complex and diverse forms. It’s so very uplifting and hopeful.

And by doing this, she also deftly captured my love for this novel.

I received an Advanced Readers Copy from Edelweiss and Berkley. All opinions included herein are my own.