Apr 21, 2015

Review: Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook

Title: Every Last Promise
Author: Kristin Halbrook
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: 4.21.2015
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Issues
Series: N/A
Source: ARC from publisher

Rating: 4 Stars

Summary (from Goodreads):
Perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Gayle Forman, Every Last Promise is a provocative and emotional novel about a girl who must decide between keeping quiet and speaking up after witnessing a classmate's sexual assault.

Kayla saw something at the party that she wasn't supposed to. But she hasn't told anyone. No one knows the real story about what happened that night--about why Kayla was driving the car that ran into a ditch after the party, about what she saw in the hours leading up to the accident, and about the promise she made to her friend Bean before she left for the summer.

Now Kayla's coming home for her senior year. If Kayla keeps quiet, she might be able to get her old life back. If she tells the truth, she risks losing everything--and everyone--she ever cared about.

My initial feeling when I finished this book was rage. Pure, total, blinding rage. And disappointment. I just ... expected so much more. From Kristin Halbrook, from Kayla, from EVERY LAST PROMISE. Instead, I was left with anger and sadness and a bitter taste that almost had me hurling this book across the room, but I stopped because said eARC was on my iPad and not amount of book rage will have me hurling my baby across a room.

But then I received a physical ARC from HarperCollins with a letter from Kristin Halbrook about the book and Kayla enclosed.

And it made me pause.

A lot of my rage and confusion came from Kayla and the fact that this book ended without a lot of issues resolved. Kayla was weak, spineless. She ducked her head and for most of the book, let things happen, not wanting to rock the boat or her place amongst her "friends".

In Halbrook's note, she admits that Kayla isn't easy to like, but what Kayla is, is a real character. She is very much a realistic person. And the sad thing is, a lot of times, silence is easier than taking a stand. I've done it. I've put my head down or let things slide so I didn't rock the boat.

I'd be willing to bet you have done it, too.

It took some time and some reflection but I realized that my issues with Kayla and this book is that it struck a raw nerve with me. I read so many book with a Katniss or a Tris or even a Bella who fight for what they believe in and damn the consequences and I want to be like that. We all do. We want to be the hero or heroine. We want people to admire us for sticking to our guns even if it leads to all out war.

But the truth is, most of us are like a Kayla. We read and dream about being the hero, but when push comes to shove and you are actually threatened, when the people you love may suffer if you stand against the wrong doers, a lot of people stay silent.

I'm not passing judgment at all. It simply ... is what it is. It's human.

So while this book isn't something I personally loved or would re-read, I can say that it is relatable. I don't think anyone will pick up the "I want to be a Kayla!" war cry. But I can appreciate and understand Kayla's struggle and even most of her decisions.
I had the chance to chat with Kristin about EVERY LAST PROMISE, and I think her answers will provide some background behind the story and a little more insight to Kayla that may not make you love her, but maybe understand her.

Hi, Kristin!!!! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! I’ve been anxiously awaiting your next book since I read NOBODY BUT US a couple years back! 

Thank YOU, Hannah! That really is incredibly kind of you to say and it means a lot to me. I’m thrilled to be chatting with you about EVERY LAST PROMISE. J

1. EVERY LAST PROMISE isn’t an easy book to read. It has some very serious issues and a main character, Kayla, who isn’t sure if she wants to be the “hero” of the story or not. How was it to write about things from Kayla’s eyes?

It was hard, a tremendous honor, and a tremendous personal growth opportunity. And I don’t say that lightly. Writing EVERY LAST PROMISE from the POV of a reluctant hero (and perhaps not a hero, at all) forced me to think and learn a lot about why people don’t speak up about sexual assault. There are loads of reasons, from personal to societal, and I’m a better person for understanding those reasons a bit better than I did before I wrote this book. Not that it was ever easy. I wanted Kayla to do the “right” thing, and to do it quickly. But I also wanted to develop an authentic character who struggled with the same things all teens struggle with: personal character development, fitting in, rocking the boat, the threat of having what they love taken from them. Ultimately, as we hear stories of sexual assault that pit “heroes” against their accusers, often in small towns or insulated communities like universities, I wanted to gain a better understanding of those who stay silent. I have learned a lot and, I think, grown my empathy.

2. I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of Kayla. In fact, she absolutely infuriated me most of the story. But I quickly realized the reasons I disliked her is because she was so much like me—sometimes it’s easier to stay quiet and not rock the boat when I should stand up and protest. Do you think teens will be able to relate more to a Kayla than a Katniss?

Oh, I really appreciate you telling me that you thought about Kayla and her story in such a personal way. That means a lot to me; reaching readers in such a way is a great hope of mine. Yes, I think Kayla could fit on the roster of “unlikeable main characters,” although I often think those characters should really be thought of as “uncomfortable” because of the way they make us turn inward and assess our own strengths, weaknesses, and views on the world. I think we all have some Kayla in us. Maybe not specifically relating to sexual assault, but our worlds are full of challenges, and part of surviving is picking our battles. I think Kayla will be hard to relate to, because we all want to believe ourselves to be heroes above reproach—I want to be, too!—but coming to terms with the way the world isn’t morally black or white—we’re not either heroes OR villains but a little bit of everything at any given time—is an important step in personal character development. As in, readers’ characters. And I say step, but it’s really more like a staircase, a series of steps we continue to climb our whole lives. It’s more fun to relate to a Katniss, for sure, and be the straight-arrow, badass heroine, but it’s more realistic and challenging to see ourselves in a Kayla. And that’s what realistic fiction is all about.

3. Your books don’t pull any punches, and you don’t give characters a Happily Ever After just for the sake of it. What makes you write books more based with realistic characters than the typical hero/heroine?

Real, live flesh and bone humans fascinate me. And that makes me sound like an observer, which I am, but I’m also quite emotionally sensitive and tend to process others’ experiences—even if they’re complete strangers—on a deep level. I am very careful about the media that I consume, because I can spends days being a wreck over things that have happened to other people. And perhaps writing realistic stories is part of my way of processing events that affect me at deep levels. I think about Will from NOBODY BUT US and am reminded that my inspiration for him came from thinking for weeks about teens who are released from the foster care system without much real-world preparation. I wanted to understand some version of those teens, to open myself to their experiences. There is just something about human struggle that opens me up, inside, and keeps me thinking. I like writing all kinds of characters, but realistic ones make me a better person (I hope!) and “better” is something I always want to strive for. As for Happily Ever After, I always have hope for my characters at the end of my stories. I always believe they will find their own versions of happiness—trial by fire, and all—even though I leave things somewhat open-ended. It means a lot to me that readers decide for themselves what my characters’ fates will be.

4. Why did you feel like this story and these issues were so important to write about?

Because I’m a woman. Because I have daughters. Because I’ve dealt with things like this personally and these issues have circled me like a shark my whole life. Because as real life small town sexual assault stories made—and continues to make—news headlines, I wondered Why? How? Who? and I needed to understand better. Because I want readers—girls and boys—to see another side, a thousand sides, to sexual assault. Because maybe my little book can help readers think, grow, build better communities.

5. What are you working on now?

Lots of things, as always! Something romantic (yes, really!), something gothic, something fantastical, something a bit wacky. Mostly YA, right now. I have a hard time reeling in my ideas. They breed like bunnies. I’ve actually been doing a lot of revising and rewriting, based on great beta reader feedback. I appreciate, so much, how my beta readers challenge me to do better and I’m still learning. Always learning. J

Thanks again, Kristin!!!!


  1. I'm definitely guilty of ignoring, of not fighting. I'm pretty sure that 99% of the population is the same way, at some point in their lives. I do wish I was more of a fighter, more confrontational (in a good, supportive, stand up for people/beliefs kind of way). I can see reacting the same way as you to this story, wanting more from the MC, expecting more from her and yet not getting it.

  2. I think you're right. There are a lot of people that do that every day and I think it is specially hard in the teenage years due to peer pressure and bullying. It is much more realistic than the larger-than-life heroines we see so much in dystopia and fantasy.

  3. I was looking at a list of YA books published this year, and saw this one. Then I looked at it on Goodreads and saw the first bit of your review there where you shared your initial reaction of rage. But I saw you had given the book 4 stars, so I was intrigued to read your review. And I'm really glad I did. Recently I realized that I remain silent when I hear or see subtle sexism, homophobia, and racism, and I realized that I needed to actually point these things out. It has been hard, but the few times I have done it, I've tried to stay as calm and polite as possible. I try to educate without attacking. And with this story, it does seem like this character is like most of us--we don't want to make others angry or accuse someone of something and make them dislike us or make them mad at us, so we stay silent. And I think it's important for people to realize that although we may be against injustices, if we don't speak out about them, they will just perpetuate. So I think it's great that this book shows us how we are and urges us to try to change that. Great review!


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