I read Diane Chamberlain for the first time just two years ago, when I devoured and adored her novel, The Dream Daughter. It has stuck with me, becoming one of those books that I continue to think about long after I’ve closed the cover. Her latest novel, The Last House on the Street, is going to have the same effect on me.
Kayla is just easing back into work after losing her husband in a tragic construction accident. A strange elderly woman comes into her office, full of secretive information about Kayla’s life. She warns Kayla away from moving into her new home in North Carolina, leaving Kayla with an ominous threat hanging heavily in the air. The home that was once Kayla and her husband’s dream home is feeling more and more like a nightmare, as the under-construction subdivision of Shadow Ridge has a dark past that is steadily working its way to the surface.
While Kayla tries to understand the woman’s threats in 2010, the novel flashes back to 1965, before Shadow Ridge existed and the land held one single home on a dirt road. Ellie is grieving the death of her beloved aunt while finishing her sophomore year at college. When she learns about the SCOPE program to help register black voters in the South, she leaps at the chance to continue her aunt’s social justice work and maybe atone for her own past mistakes. Her actions have a ripple effect, all the way to Kayla in 2010.
Once again, Diane Chamberlain’s words pulled me in from the first page. This novel is well paced, drawing the reader in and tugging at their mind whenever they aren’t reading. The dual timeline narrative is engaging, with each timeline being equally enthralling. There is a bit of suspense, but not of the nightmare-inducing variety.
The dual timeline accomplishes the rare feat of both timelines being equally engaging; I left each chapter wanting to learn what happened next, whether that chapter was set in 1965 or 2010. The combination of pacing and excellently developed characters is a big component of why both narrators and times are so intriguing. Both dangers feel present, as Kayla tries to solve the mystery of what happened on her land and Ellie is battling entrenched racism.
This novel does tackle difficult topics, and though it is handled sensitively, it’s also faced head-on. There is no softening the horrors of what happened during the Civil Rights era nor should there be; this is an important part of our history. I will include a trigger warning below, with plenty of advanced notice, for anyone who would like a heads up about the racially motivated violence that occurs in this book. As I’ve learned from the two books I’ve read, Chamberlain doesn’t hesitate to break your heart.
Every character is thoroughly developed, from the main characters to a four year old to minor side characters. The combination of these well-crafted characters in this well-illustrated world makes the plot believable and the reader’s empathetic response strong.
This is the kind of book you stay up late reading, the page-turner that will help get you out of your reading slump and make you immediately want to read the author’s entire backlist.
If you loved The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, Southern Fiction, historical fiction, dual timelines, and multiple narrators, this is the book for you.
Thank you to Diane Chamberlain, Net Galley, and St. Martin’s Press for an advanced copy such that I could write this review.
The Last House on the Street will be available January 11, 2022.
(Trigger warning below image.)
This book contains scenes of KKK gatherings and racial violence. The violence is not gratuitous nor is it graphic, but it is described. There is also brief child endangerment.