“What if your town was sliding underwater and everyone was ordered to pack up and leave?”
That’s the premise of The Last Boy and Girl in the World, a new novel hitting the shelves this month. Inspired by the story of a small Pennsylvania town that now sits at the bottom of a manmade lake, it is the eighth novel by Siobhan Vivian. Vivian, raised in nearby Rutherford, NJ, feels a strong sense of history and connection to the small town she grew up in, and that factors heavily into her storyline here.
Keeley Hewitt is a high-school junior and a self-proclaimed goof. She’s the one who’s always making everyone laugh, not the one getting the boys. So when the boy of her dreams, the one she’s been pining for since middle school, begins to notice her, her world starts to shift. Then, after an incident of flooding, residents learn the whole town of Aberdeen is going under and they’ll have to leave forever, that world turns completely upside down.
Even more important that the romance, this story is about the friendships of girls, the bond between kids growing up together and becoming young adults. The book is “like high school graduation on steroids.”
“I steal from life often,” Vivian said. Keeley’s love interest is based on a boy Vivian loved when she was in school. Again, it’s not just about boys. Vivian said, “My friends [from high school] recognize all these things that happened to us growing up!”
The story began to take shape for Vivian when she learned her parents were planning to sell her childhood home. Though she lives in Pittsubrgh now with a family of her own, Rutherford was still a touchstone for her. She began thinking about how her life would be different had she not had those connections. “Who are your friends if you’re not living around the corner?” becomes a pivotal question.
Just like Vivian’s other books, this one is considered young adult, typically for ages 15-20. But Vivian says that her audience is about 50% teens and 50% adults. She thinks this is due, in large part, to the universality of the rites of passage and the core themes of friendship and love. While life is surely different now than it was 20 years ago for the average high school student, teens at that age are still going through a very “stakesy time, rife with meaning and possibility. The core stuff doesn’t change: the big emotional changes of high school, all the firsts. This is universal.”
With a solid story and a strong teen protagonist who goes through the challenges of high school in a realistic way, it was easily relatable. The emotions are familiar as Keeley bounces back and forth between confidence and self-doubt. The unique premise and focus on interpersonal relationships pull the reader in and holds on until the end.
Siobhan Vivian will be at Watchung Booksellers (54 Fairfield Street, Montclair) on Wednesday, April 27, at 7:00 PM.