Desert Isle Keeper
One Last Stop
Casey McQuiston’s debut novel, Red, White, and Royal Blue was an enormous hit and I, like many readers, was anxiously awaiting McQuiston’s second book. One Last Stop is a terrific sophomore effort that McQuiston fans will enjoy. I mostly loved it but a few things kept it just shy of a perfect read. Few quibbles aside, I highly recommend One Last Stop – especially if you are a fan of some supernatural elements in your romance.
Twenty-three-year-old August Landry has recently relocated to NYC from New Orleans to continue her college education at Brooklyn College. August is a professional student and prefers a nomadic lifestyle, moving from college to college every few years. In NYC she finds roommates and a part-time job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes, while figuring out her commute to school – the Q train. On the Q, heading to her first day of classes, August spills a coffee down her shirt and “the hottest girl August has ever seen,” aka Jane, another passenger, gives her a scarf to cover the stain.
August continues to run into Jane on the Q train. Taking a risk, August invites Jane to Pancake Billy’s and out for a drink, but Jane never shows. Yet without fail, she finds Jane on the Q whenever she climbs aboard, day or night, eastbound or westbound. Coincidence? August wonders how this can possibly be. Then she finds a photograph on the wall of Pancake Billy’s opening day celebration in 1976 and Jane is in the photo – Jane as August has seen her now.
August is stunned! She calls Niko, one of her NYC roommates (who just happens to be a psychic), to help her figure out what is going on with Jane. They decide that step one is to discover if Jane is really alive. Niko and August host a séance to determine if Jane is a ghost – if Jane appears, she’s a ghost. If not, well, they’ll have to work harder to figure out what is going on. Jane doesn’t appear so Niko joins the infamous Q commute to see if he can help figure out what Jane is.
“She’s alive,” he says. “But…also not? I don’t think she’s dead. She’s sort of…in between. Not here, not on the other side. She feels really…distant, like not totally rooted here and now. Except when she touched you, then she felt super here. Which is interesting.”
Niko’s thoughts spark an idea in August’s head – if she ran back to the subway and jumped on the Q line onto a different train going the opposite way, would Jane be there? It should be physically impossible – but there she is. Now August knows that the combination of the Q and August has something to do with why Jane is stuck on the train and why August might be the only person who can rescue her. But will rescuing Jane send her back to the 1970s? Or will Jane stay in the present? How in the world do you rescue someone trapped in a time warp on a subway train? And what happens when you fall in love with someone stuck in a temporal limbo?
Fellow readers, this book was so unexpected! It goes in a completely different direction from Red, White, and Royal Blue, bringing something utterly unique to the table. It reminded me of Rebecca Stead’s 2009 Newbery Medal-winner When You Reach Me – a delightful, mind-expanding science-fiction mystery. But then this book also has the unexpected romance between August and Jane plus an amazing cast of delightful misfits.
August is the main character of the story. We spend our time following her around Brooklyn, watching the pieces of the puzzle come together about the mystery of Jane. August is a cynical loner who longs to connect (although it takes her a while to realize this!), that quintessential twenty-three-year-old who is full of self-confidence and self-doubt. She is wildly attracted to Jane but completely unconvinced of her own attractiveness and desirability. It was much harder to get a true picture of Jane – which isn’t surprising since she is stuck on the train and most of the story happens off the train. When she got stuck on the Q in the 1970s, she was a super-confident, tattooed twenty-four-year-old – and she still is today. But through chatting with August, Jane begins to sense that something is terribly wrong with her. It’s not until August learns more about Jane and explains her reality that Jane can join August in working to free herself.
Confused? I bet – the story was sometimes hard to follow (and amazingly hard to summarize). You definitely need to exercise some suspension of disbelief, but there is so much more going on in One Last Stop than August and Jane’s story. McQuiston has packed the novel with terrific secondary characters including August’s roommates in NYC – Niko, a psychic; his love interest Myla, an electrical engineer turned artist; and Wes, a tattoo artist who is in love with their neighbor Isaiah, a part-time drag queen.
And the secondary characters really shine. Niko and Myla are a delight and I would love to read their story. Same with Wes and Isaiah. It’s a true ensemble novel packed with witty banter and beautiful insights. The narrative revolves around the mystery of Jane and August’s attraction to her, but the real heart of the story is a celebration of life on the edge of acceptance, and the beauty and messiness of a wonderful chosen family. I liked August and Jane and I enjoyed the time-travel mystery part of the story, but it’s the supporting cast that puts this book in DIK territory for me.
At 432 pages, One Last Stop is a loooong read. At one point, I glanced at the percentage-read on my kindle, guessing that I was at about 60%, but was only at 35%. The story takes a while to unpack. And there are definitely some loose ends with the ‘Jane-out-of-time’ angle – like how did she spend all those years on the Q without any idea she was stuck? But if you can go with the flow and just lose yourself in the story, you are in for a treat. And if One Last Stop doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, read (or reread) Red, White, and Royal Blue!