Always the Last to Know
by Kristan Higgins
Release Date: June 9, 2020
Number of pages: 396
Read 12/4/20 to 12/6/20
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.
This isn’t really what I was expecting. I don’t mean that in any bad way, it was just more intense than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I am used to Kristan Higgins wringing my emotions out of me. Which, she does here. The way the women of this family are thrust into a terrible situation had me questioning my pre-conceived ideas about them.
I’ll start with the mom, Barb. She was the most confusing character for me. At times, I wanted to dislike her. I wasn’t a fan of her blasé attitude when it came to Sadie. And, with all of her internal complaints about John and their marriage, I couldn’t help but question how many times she had actually expressed her sadness, dissatisfaction, ennui, and irritation to her husband. Then, Barb would admit to herself that she wasn’t the best wife or mother and I’d start to sympathize with her. So, one minute I’d be fully Team Barb, then she would annoy me, then I’d come back around. Quite honestly, even when I was not all in on Barb, I could understand her bad feelings toward John. He truly wasn’t a very good husband.
As for John, there is a bit with his perspective and I think that was extremely important. I don’t want to get into too much with him because it will end up spoiler-ish, but I do want to say that I feel the author was brilliant with her inclusion of John’s mindset. Without it, this would have been a very different story and I would have had quite a different feeling about the situation had I not had that look into John’s thoughts.
John’s “favorite” daughter is Sadie. From the description of this book and all through the beginning of this story I really thought I was going to be a huge fan of Sadie’s. Alas, I was not. In fact, I don’t know of many times I’ve struggled to like a protagonist so much. Part of that, I feel, is by design. But a good portion of it was my own bias. I just don’t understand Sadie. I don’t really have anything against her lifestyle choices and her want and need to follow her dreams. What I did have a problem with was her being blind to criticism, feeling people just weren’t understanding her instead of realizing they were trying to help her. Or, later, her blindness to Noah’s hopes and dreams. Sadie and her first and only love Noah are both stubborn and both have trouble with compromise. Yet, I felt Noah tried so much harder to understand Sadie and to bend to her needs. It felt, to me, that Sadie looked down on Noah’s life goals. Even once she realized city life wasn’t for him, she still didn’t try to understand or make any concessions like he had done. That put her on my bad side quite often.
What came as a surprise to me was the connection I felt to Juliet. There are not many similairities between Juliet and me, but the way she tried so hard to be the perfect mom and wife just touched me. It also pulled at my heart because we all know nobody’s perfect, and it was only a matter of time before Juliet, who is in her 40s, learned that harsh lesson. Part of Juliet’s story has to do with a younger female coworker and how hard Juliet tried to never be “that woman” by speaking poorly of her, even when this woman wasn’t being so great to Juliet. The intense feelings of anger and despair were beautifully written, conveying to the reader the emotions every woman in a similar situation has had.
This story is such an interesting blend of familial strife, self-realization, love, and sorrow. It’s stitched together to create a stunning tapestry of the women in the Frost family.