This had such an intriguing synopsis that completely drew me in and I was lucky enough to be gifted an ARC by the wonderful Hannah Bradridge at Penguin. As it is Last Lesson’s publication date today, I thought that it was the perfect timing for me to share my review.
Trigger warnings: violence, bullying, pipe bomb, sexual assault, violent pornography, death, car accident, grief, murder
Last year, Ollie Morcombe was a star pupil, popular and a gifted musician.
Then, after the accident, everything changed. Now he’s an outcast, a prime target of the school bullies who have made his life a living hell.
Today – the last day of the school year – he’s brought those bullies a gift. A homemade pipe bomb.
What has driven a model student to plan an unspeakable revenge? And with the clock ticking down to home time, what can anybody do to stop him?
Initially the synopsis drew me in, but I was also slightly tentative about exploring Ollie’s fractured mind. I need not have worried as Goodhand has masterfully created a complex character, who is unlikable at times and his actions are explained, but never excused.
Last Lesson is a searing exploration of toxic masculinity and the damaging effects of mental illness that keeps you on your toes throughout. The tension created from the first chapter stays taut over the course of the story, making me unable to draw breath. You can empathise with Ollie and the awful situation he is in, without excusing his deplorable actions. In particular Goodhand chooses to focus on how mental health can be ignored and brushed to the side, particularly after a traumatic event has occurred. We live in a culture of silence and stubborn pride, with the horrifying effects on full display through Ollie.
The structure of the story helped to continue to capture my attention, as we’d flick between past and present. This helped create a sense of Ollie’s fractured state of mind and the overarching effects his trauma and grief has on him. Goodhand paints an ugly but truthful portrait of grief and how we may be expected to move on too early, sweeping feelings under the caret where they are only left to fester. This, combined with issues of bullying and family, helps you to understand Ollie’s situation, but he is still never completely excused. For me, Goodhand’s distinction here is hugely important, as it never falls into shaming mental health nor completely removing the blame from Ollie. There are no black and white, clearly defined sides here, only a mess caused by mental health and the impact of other people.
This is going to be a controversial book, but it is one that forces conversations to occur that are vital, particularly in regards to male mental health and bullying.