The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
The Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.
But wrecks seem to run in the family. Tall, funny, musical Violet can’t stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.
Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family’s missing piece – the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.
She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.
When I first saw The Last True Poets of the Sea, I found myself hooked on the premise–I’d read the first few chapters and was drawn into it. It sounded like the kind of story I would like, and in many ways, I was right. The Last True Poets of the Sea is an deep exploration of family, friendship, mental illness, and survival.
Our main character is Violet, who’s been sent to live with her uncle in the town of Lyric, Maine, after a rough year for her family. When we first meet her, Violet’s reeling from the past year coping with her brother’s mental health problems by partying and promiscuity. The Last True Poets of the Sea is about Violet putting the pieces of who she is together, solving the problem of her family, and finding the self who she’s lost. Violet is such a realistic character to me, with so many contradictory
The book also throws readers a proper love triangle with two of the side characters, Liv and Orion, two of the teenagers that Violet meets in Lyric. Violet finds herself attracted to both of them, who are a will-they-won’t-they couple, and both find themselves attracted to Violet. I wasn’t expecting this book to be queer, which makes me glad that it was. Orion is the sweetest boy, and Liv is smart and ambitious, and I enjoyed the dynamic of all three of them together.
When it comes to the discussion of mental illness, The Last True Poets of the Sea goes the avenue of leaving a named diagnosis out of the book for any of the characters. However, Violet is heavily implied to have bipolar disorder; meanwhile, Sam has a “complicated” diagnosis implied to be something more, which I personally read as autism (Violet constantly saying there was “more” to Sam, sensory issues, special interests, and general rigidity in schedule). I’ll be honest: I’m not really a fan of the Ambiguous Disorder trope. I understand why authors do it; in this book, it’s to show the connection between Sam and Violet, as well as hereditary mental illness.
I’m also not a fan of the Problem Sibling trope, though The Last True Poets definitely does deconstruct it and show how both Violet and Sam are both going through their own separate struggles and that they’re likely both neurodivergent in some way. If — and I do stress the “if” — Sam was written to be autistic, the comparison of autism to mental illness does make me deeply uncomfortable. Obviously, autistic people can certainly be mentally ill, and have what Sam was diagnosed with (we love comorbidities), but I wish there was a distinction. Because to me, it felt like Sam was being presented as the Problem Sibling, who destabilized his family, and that narrative does quite bother me, especially if Sam was meant to be autistic. Of course, I could always just be reading Too Far Into It, so take these last two paragraphs with a salt shaker!
The writing is really gorgeous, though, and lends so much to the atmosphere of sleepy small-town Maine in the summer. Julia Drake gives Violet a really strong voice, which is good because this book is so character-driven and emotional.
I would definitely recommend The Last True Poets of the Sea as a great YA contemporary. It’s a book that makes you feel things, a messy family and messy people trying to put themselves back together.
content warnings | suicide, eating disorder, grief, drug and alcohol use
representation | unspecified mental illness/neurodiversity
have you read the last true poets of the sea?