The Last House On The Street – Diane Chamberlain

It’s 2010 and architect Kayla Carter is seated in her office when she has a strange visitor show up, asking for a meeting. The woman is odd, hiding behind her mirrored sunglasses, asking Kayla about some work she’d like done on her house. But when she starts asking pointed questions, alluding to events in Kayla’s life she should have no knowledge of, Kayla escorts her to the door. But not before the old woman utters words that make Kayla’s blood run cold. 

The year is 1965 and there is political unrest across the land as Martin Luther King Jr is slowly paving the way for black citizens’ push for equality. In rural North Carolina, young, impressionable Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Hockley learns of local attempts to canvas and educate black families on voting registration and yearns to join them. Being from a respected, white, well-to-do family, she is forbidden to join the group. Angered at her family’s refusal to support her, she forges her father’s signature on her permission slip, and joins SCOPE, the Summer Community Organization & Political Education Project, leaving her family and boyfriend behind.  

As Ellie begins her journey, she works alongside of and meets many black individuals, receiving an eye-opening education about inequality and mistreatment in the process. As days turn into weeks and she befriends black families and children, she learns of the horror of white supremacy and the KKK, recognizing faces in these crowds that she never expected to see. 

Meanwhile, 45 years in the future, Kayla is putting the finishing touches on a home she and her husband had designed – the same home he recently died in, after falling off a ladder. As she struggles with her perceptions that the house killed her husband, she senses a sadness and foreboding to the property, which she attributes to his death.  Anxious to meet some neighbors, she stops to assist a woman, who is struggling to carry some groceries into her home. Her name is Ellie. These two women from different eras begin to develop a friendship, having no idea how inextricably bound they are by past events…

Told from the perspectives of Ellie in 1965 and Kayla in 2010, this is a beautifully written, but haunting story of the horrors of 1960’s racial inequality, hate, forbidden love, loss and perseverance in the face of untold tragedy.  I was immediately drawn into these women’s stories and read late into the night with a desperate need to know the whole story. This one will remain in my heart for a long time to come. A wonderfully written, touching story and a history lesson rolled into one. 

Oh – and have Kleenex on hand for this one… 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from #Netgalley & St. Martin’s Press, in exchange for an objective review.