Sam and Ilsa's last hurrah by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

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Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760293857
(Age: Senior secondary) Themes: Anxiety, friendships, Relationships, twins, change, sexuality. It is a time of change for twins, Sam and Ilsa, not only are they about to leave school but their grandmother, who they call Czarina, and whose New York luxury apartment has been their playground, is selling up and moving to France. As a "Last Hurrah" they plan a dinner party in the apartment, each secretly choosing three people to invite. Sam and Ilsa are very different, Sam, a high achiever, conservative and anxious, is musically ambitious. Ilsa is the extrovert, wild and challenging, her poor academic record making it hard for her to imagine a satisfying future, she is more concerned about Sam's future after his anxiety caused him to perform badly in an audition and the subsequent emotional crisis left him very fragile. The tension mounts as the guests arrive, a mix of old friends, ex boyfriends, and new acquaintances, including one who communicates through a sock puppet. Old wounds are opened and new possibilities canvassed then a storm brings things to a head and a power cut breaks the tension allowing everyone to move on. Along the way anxiety in its many forms is discussed and the various ways they all experience it and deal with it, whether by therapy, medication, bottling it up or acting it out. Relationships are explored and plans for the future. At one point Sam asks "how do you leave?" and there is a serious discussion about change and destinations that make this a meaningful coming of age story leavened with humour and absurdity. The first person interleaved account allows us to see each twin's perspective and the rich dialogue keeps the story moving fast. At times it was hard to keep track of all of the eight characters and the precocious, rich kids are rather unappealing. The ending is a bit unnecessary and awkward but year 11 and 12 students will recognise and relate to, this group's insecurities and the issues they face.
Sue Speck