Written as a series of letters between 1999 and 2003, The Last Letter: A Novel is a classic coming-of-age tale about Lia Lenelli, a teenage girl struggling to shape her own identity while a chronic illness threatens to tear her world apart.
Write one last letter. That's what fifteen-year-old Amelia's psychologist says when she tells him about her time capsule--a My Little Pony lunchbox she's buried in the backyard garden after listening to the preacher on the corner shout about the end of times.
One last chance to leave her mark when the world's been shaken to its core by a national tragedy not even the preacher sees coming.
One last story of humanity's ability to endure, like in all those historical disasters her mother recites like fairytales.
One last reminder of her existence, when her illness has turned her into such a ghost of her former self, one more exhale is all it will take before she disappears completely.
One last letter to tell the world how she's lived and who she's loved and what she's trying to survive.
Adolescence is bad enough, but suppose you also have Lyme disease and no one can diagnose it?
In this novel, Amelia “Lia” Garrett Lenelli is your garden variety teenager. But in addition to the usual teen angst, she has more subtle problems—such as getting a D on a test that she should have aced (she’s clearly bright, a good student) and then experiencing panic attacks, memory loss, and physical debilitation. She has been referred to a therapist, a guy who simply sits patiently and encourages her to keep producing the letters that she has admitted to writing and burying in her garden in a “time capsule”: her old My Little Pony lunchbox. These letters, addressed to “Dear Whoever You Are,” make this a strange sort of epistolary novel and form the basis and bulk of the book. Lia has a loving and supportive family. She gets even more support (eventually) from her friend Mollie’s big brother, Josh. But a big problem is that Lyme disease is so mysterious that many of her friends (like Mollie) simply don’t believe that she is really sick, but rather that she is some sort of drama queen. She finds all of this maddening. The doctors have no clue—Lia is losing patience with them and they with her. Finally, almost as a fluke, Lia finds a fellow sufferer. Yes, it’s Lyme disease, and yes, there is a kindly physician who understands and treats it. A slow recovery begins, though there can be relapses. Battles are won, but Lia acknowledges that “the war still lingers dormant within me.”
“Whoever You Are” is, of course, you, dear reader, a powerful device to yank you into the riveting story. (Ultimately, while planting a rose bush, Lia’s father unearths the lunchbox, but that is just a bit of stagecraft.) Pogorzelski is an experienced writer and has created a wonderful character in Lia, who is tough but always on the brink of being overwhelmed. The teen also has a wicked way with observations. When the Lenellis decide to have a garage sale, to Lia it looks “like our childhood threw up all over our lawn.” Lia finds school excruciating, with the students being pack-oriented. She is sidelined, if not outright ostracized. Readers will feel her agony, anger, and, most of all, her growing fear. At one point, she comes close to suicide. One exception among the well-meaning but unhelpful people is Lia’s nameless shrink. He has a past of his own from his stint in Vietnam and resists any facile judgments, setting her on the writing therapy path. In some ways, he seems no more helpful than the others, but Lia realizes an essential wisdom in him and suspects that he is a fellow sufferer, not from Lyme disease but from a deep sadness, having seen too much. He is a strong character who clearly represents a lesson in trust. Like Holden Caulfield, Lia can spot a phony a mile off; her therapist is the real deal. In an afterword, readers will discover that this is actually the author’s own story, slightly fictionalized. Pogorzelski is now a crusader and provides helpful links for those who are suffering as she was.
A gripping, sensitively written account of a terrible affliction that is more common than realized. (afterword)
"Teens reeling with personal and national crises will find themselves in this teen girl's voice. The story evolves from a letter writing assignment, completed out of duty, to a journal that provides much needed mooring through difficult times. The protagonist's voice is the heart of the novel; she is earnest, honest, and her emotions and thoughts are easy to relate to. The book gives an inside look at what it was like to be a teen during September 11, 2001 and its aftermath--a time today's teens don't recall. The broader historical crises matches the tone of the difficulty in the character's life, creating a resonance that will feel familiar and authentic to teens. The story will relate to a wide variety of teen readers, but particularly those who are dealing with Lyme disease or another chronic illness that it hard to live with, understand, and share about with others. The themes of loneliness and connection, despair and perseverance, and beauty in the midst of ugliness are timeless and vital to teen readers looking for something positive in life and in the world around them." - Judge, 25th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards (Honorable Mention, MG/YA)