I was completely surprised by The Next to Last Mistake. Not only is there a lot of chess and cows in this book, but it’s also about being surprised by friendship.
Tess Goodwin’s life in rural Iowa is sheltered and uncomplicated. Although she chooses to spend most of her free time playing chess with her best friend Zander, the farm-boy from next door, her skills as a bovine midwife and tractor mechanic ensure that she fits in with the other kids at East Chester High. But when her veteran father reenlists in the Army, moving her family halfway across the country to North Carolina, Tess is forced out of her comfort zone into a world she knows nothing about.
Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The Next to Last Mistake is a story about being out of your comfort zone, displaced, and not knowing how to move on with your life. At the same time it’s about opening your heart to new experiences, being willing to listen, and adapting to change. The Next to Last Mistake is surprising in the best of ways as it deals with friendship, family, and saying goodbye.
Friendship and differences
Jahn takes this moment in our lives, where we feel so utterly like we don’t belong, and tells a story about change and finding our place. At the same time, it’s full of conversations about privilege and race as Tess is surrounded by entirely new people and experiences. She has to figure out when it’s time for her to listen to those around her, and how her words, and microaggressions, make her friends feel.
It’s about realizing that our lives and experiences are so different from other peoples. Where they have never had a moment where their life wasn’t defined by their race, where they learn different rules than us. And what happens when Tess is faced with these new friends and trying to see their perspectives. Because we are in Tess’s perspective, we can see her listening and being introspective, respectful while still acknowledging that she has more work to do.
As someone who has moved a lot within the last few years, and felt like I had to remake myself each time, I found this aspect of the story, and Tess relatable. That same holding of breath, waiting for someone to make a move, and wondering how you will adapt to this different world. It’s hard to navigate long distance friendships, but the ones that manage to breach the miles are the ones we treasure most.
And if you saw me mention chess before, don’t worry. I really am not a fan of chess, but I still was able to follow along and, clearly, still enjoyed it. The Next to Last Mistake really is a story about friendship. It’s about making mistakes, big and small, but managing to correct them, to take the time and listen.