Review by Elizabeth Gibson
Annabel Pitcher has a track record of awards and praise, and I can understand why. I read and enjoyed her first three books, with Silence is Goldfish being particularly powerful. It was clear that The Last Days of Archie Maxwell would be a slightly different reading experience due to its narrator and probable intended audience; while Pitcher’s protagonists tend to be girls, this book tells us the story of Archie, a teenage boy who is facing a lot of confusion about his life, friends and family.
The book was designed to be physically easy to read, as many people have trouble reading for various reasons. As a result, the novel is short and manageable and the font is large and clear. The pretty rain-themed headers at the start of each chapter are helpful as they break up the text and allow the reader to track their progress through the book.
As for the plot, the premise is interesting: Archie’s father reveals he is gay and leaves his family. Archie and his sisters are in shock at first, but soon Maisy and Amy seem to recover and accept the situation, with Archie sensing that he is the only one still struggling. There is so much potential to this plotline, which evokes so many complex emotions and questions about identity and relationships. What we see is promising, but it could do with being discussed in far greater depth.
The other main plotline is about the suicide of Tathum, the brother of Archie’s crush, Tia. Tathum was hit by a train close to Archie’s house and Tia wants to know what Archie can tell her about the event. In order to try and keep her happy, Archie invents some lies, which soon spin out of control. Again, this is a heavy but important topic to discuss, and could have had a whole book devoted to it rather than having to share the space with the story of Archie’s father.
I enjoyed the glimpses of life in a small community, Archie’s relationship with his surroundings and with nature, and the sibling bonds we see. There is some strong poetic imagery, with the theme of roses being a constant and the revelation about them at the end a poignant surprise. For me, the main issue with the story was the copious amount of homophobic and misogynistic language used by the “bad boy” characters. I know it will have been intended to make them seem more realistic, but I worry that readers may not have previously heard the words and insults used, and it would be a shame for them to learn them here.
Overall, this book was unlike anything else I’ve read recently, and I found the choices regarding the plotline to be daring. I think there was a bit too much going on, and some more breathing space would have been good, but there were some very striking moments that I won’t forget.