A novel by Alexandra Harrington
“In River John, winter comes racing over the hills without much of a warning.” Although it’s now spring, this new book, The Last Time I Saw Her, brings River John to its readers along with many sensitive topics; but, especially for a first-time author, it is done beautifully. Alexandra (Lexi) Harrington packs a punch in her first middle-grade fiction and honours our county by setting it in the streets of River John.
“When I was a kid, we used to spend time in River John every summer,” says Harrington. “My grandparents had a cottage up there, and being on the North Shore was the best part of any summer vacation. As an adult I am still up there frequently, usually looking for beach glass.”
Harrington continues, “I started writing this book when I was so young, like 14, and I started plotting it out when I was in River John one summer. I was attracted to the idea of the small village as the setting, and it was a place I knew well. Good place for mystery and drama!”
If you’ve ever visited the village, you will likely understand how special and memorable it is, even outside of the Read by the Sea Literary Festival and Sheree Fitch’s Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery. Harrington included the few local businesses and honoured the charming characteristics while aligning them with the shadow side that could be possible for any location.
While the imagery of the plot stood out to me, some lines completely stopped me and forced me to take a moment to stare at nothing. It doesn’t happen often, but then the author includes a line like “…but the only thing certain as a storm coming was the promise that it would end,” or “The space between them as she held his gaze was full with the weight of them.” I need to remember to breathe.
This is a tale of Charlotte, AKA Charlie, returning after almost a year away from the village and everything she ever knew—and now life was completely different. Meeting her former best friend, she realized quickly how long 11 months was for a senior in high school.
This novel is filled with mystery, romance, drama, life lessons and so much more. I do highly recommend you add it to your reading list, no matter your age.
Through email, I had the privilege of asking Harrington
a few questions about her work.
SB: Writing seems to be in your blood, with your mother, author Lisa Harrington, also writing for teens. Is middle grade/young adult fiction where your heart is?
“Definitely! I read a TON when I was younger. I think honestly middle-grade is my favourite genre but it can be very hard to pull off. I’d love to write a middle-grade story someday. Luckily for me I have a great mentor to learn from.
“I think the YA and middle-grade genres are so important, because those are the genres that get young people into reading and that’s where young people find the characters that they most relate to. I think those genres are where we see the most diverse voices and that’s so important for young people to experience.”
SB: Which character in The Last Time I Saw Her do you most resemble?
“Originally, I think Charlotte was a lot more like me when I first started writing the book as a teenager. However, I grew up a bit since then, and so did Charlotte. There’s still a bit of me in her, we’re both emotional people and a few of Charlotte’s quirks, hobbies, likes, etc. come from me.
“I think I would like to be more like Leo, who, a lot of the time, is a voice of reason for his friends. I would love to have Sophie’s strong sense of self and I think she is definitely the smartest of all of them. She was my favourite to write.”
SB: What’s next for you? Any works in progress currently? Can you give a hint if there will be a follow up to The Last Time I Saw Her or another story set in River John?
“I’m currently picking away at a couple projects, probably more slowly than I’d like. I’m working on a YA mystery set at a girls’ boarding school and another, slightly more adult mystery with some spookier elements that takes place on a tiny island. I won’t rule out writing about River John again, but I do think Charlie and Sophie’s story is over. They’ve been through enough!”
SB: What do you hope people take away from this story?
“I hope people just see little bits and pieces of things they can relate to—the small town, complicated friendships, shaky family life, and messy romances. The story is pretty dramatic and, at times, over-the-top, but I wanted it to be rooted in some familiarity. And then also I just hope readers are entertained by the story. I think that’s important.”
And there are promises of a new book in our future as Alexandra concludes, “It’s like a puzzle, trying to put everything together and it’s hardly ever perfect, but with mysteries you kind of have to work backwards. It was certainly a challenge. I’m excited to try again!”