100-Character Breakdown: A page-turning, compelling mystery bolstered by a focus on diversity and self-discovery.
Genre: Young adult, LGBTQ, mystery, thriller
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (October 2016)
A rapidly paced page-turner, Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig achieves a balance between genuineness and suspense. High school sophomore Flynn has been drifting from January, his girlfriend, for more than one reason. January’s mother married a state senator, uplifting her life and moving her to a separate school. And Flynn is gay, but it’s a secret he doesn’t plan on revealing, even when January wants to have sex with him. When he refuses, she storms off, and Flynn doesn’t see her again. It isn’t until the police come to question him that he realizes she’s missing. The cops ask Flynn questions he can’t answer, but he’s determined to find the truth. And while he searches for answers about January’s disappearance, he must also come to terms with himself.
This compelling mystery is full of twists and turns; it spirals in unexpected ways and escalates at the right moments. As the novel progresses, it becomes harder and harder to put it down. The well-formed mystery forms the husk of the book — and manages to do so with excellent depth — but it is the emotional center and focus on diversity and self-discovery that solidify Last Seen Leaving as a fully-formed novel. The cast features numerous diverse characters, ranging in sexual orientation, race, and religion, and Roehrig’s inclusion of intersectional identities bolsters the diversity even more.
While the focus on diversity is excellent, there are a few missteps in the exploration of Flynn’s sexuality. It isn’t as much the way his sexuality is explored that’s the issue, but rather the speed. His coming out process matches the book’s overall pace: it’s incredibly fast. Flynn’s development as a character would’ve been much more powerful if his self-exploration was better paced and more carefully layered with the mystery plot. However, that’s not to say that his story isn’t heartfelt.
The blend of genre is gripping, and the tone is altogether well-balanced. Last Seen Leaving is certainly a strong debut, and, as a young adult LGBTQ mystery, it’s an important one too.