Leah Konen does a really great job at capturing the teenage spirit. The desire to be popular, the fights between friends, the plans of preparation for senior year, all seem genuine. Without trivializing the characters in any way, the author also does not make them too mature, too intelligent, or too perfect either. This phenomenon of exceptionally developed teenagers seems to be the recent trend in young adult novels, which, in my opinion, detracts from the coming-of-age elements of the story. Konen pens great high schoolers who are still learning about life, but in many cases, can still teach the adults a thing or two.
I also love the instantaneous chemistry between Liz and Jason. Generally, I have to wait for the majority of a novel for a love story to play out and for the characters to develop feelings. Liz and Jason’s relationship is different, which makes it quite refreshing. However, since Jason’s character is developed primarily in a retrospective way, through Liz’s memories, I would have liked to know more about him now that he is out of jail.
The book itself is a quick read, as well as engaging, mysterious, and a lot of fun. My main problem with it, however, is how similar it is to the novel Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles. While enough of the details are different, the main plotlines follow analogous trajectories. The Last Time We Were Us is the less edgy, less dramatic version. With that being said, the book is still very enjoyable. It is set during the summer and perfect for carting along to the beach.