“The Next to Last Mistake” by Amalie Jahn

Thanks to Light Messages and Netgalley for providing me with an Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

This novel follows Tess, a teenage girl living in a farming community in rural Iowa. Her father re-enlists in the army which necessitates the family’s move to North Carolina. The story follows Tess’ journey as she adapts to this huge upheaval in her life, and her struggle to maintain old relationships and forge new ones.

This kind of rural setting was one that was new to me. I’ve read a lot of literature set in the rural South, but an Iowa dairy farm was a first for me. The military base setting in North Carolina was also unfamiliar to me personally, but I felt I understood more about how they function by the end of the novel. Both of the main settings were quite unique and refreshing for a YA novel and I liked how Tess was proud to be from a farming background. All too often this kind of upbringing is pitched as something young people resent and wish to escape from.

The novel highlights themes of racism and white privilege as Tess navigates her new High School and makes friends with Leonetta and Alice, two African American teens. The characterisation and dialogue when these issues were highlighted was sometimes a little clumsy but the author’s heart was clearly in the right place. The friendship between Tess and her friends was portrayed well and it’s clear the author drew upon her real life female friendships when writing this novel. Themes of bullying and controlling romantic relationships are also explored.

Additionally, the main love story is sweet if a little predictable. Without spoiling anything the story also packs in a hefty emotional punch. I also thought Chess was an interesting hobby for a female YA protagonist so kudos for that.

My only mild criticisms would be that Tess is a little too good to be true sometimes. Is it really realistic that a teenager wouldn’t complain once about leaving her home, all her friends and even her beloved cow? The use of ‘triflin’ heifer’ as an insult was also bizarre and cheesy. It was hard to believe that any savvy young person would use that.

Overall a solid YA novel that will strike a chord with many young people. Themes of female friendship, racism, loss and dealing with change will resonate with many readers and the story was unique enough to hold my interest.

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