If you don’t read a lot of YA fiction, it’s probably really hard to comprehend how all-pervasive love triangles have become in this genre. It’s a distressingly overused trope across all branches of YA, from fantasy to dystopia, even encompassing the burgeoning LGBTQIA area to a lesser extent. I blame Twilight. It’s time teens fought back against their insulting portrayal as woefully indecisive lumps of uselessness, being fought over like a prize to be won, usually by characters who are so obviously binary opposites that choosing between them should be a no-brainer. Love triangles outside of Victorian novels usually make me groan, so it is something worth getting excited about when I encounter one which flickers my interest. And so we come to Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin (Carolrhoda Books, 2015).
The relationships at the heart of the book are those between Bertucci, Codnam, and Livvy, high school friends on the eve of graduation, the night before which Bertucci summons the others to one final evening of nostalgia at their old hang-out, the titular picture-house, itself about to be condemned. Endings and the destruction of memories are central to Last Night at the Circle Cinema. If any of this sounds clichéd, it shouldn’t. If it sounds simple, it is–right up until the point it isn’t anymore.
“When I was with Bertucci, we were witty, wittier, wittiest. Ping-ponging ideas, plotting, scheming; Olivia the perfect balance for us, able to banter; the two of them somehow made me more than I was alone, brought out all the best bits of me. Parts of me I might never have known without them.” – page 77
Honestly, a realistic love triangle is the unicorn of YA fiction; if you think you saw one, it was probably a dream or you were watching My Little Pony for the 47th time with your obsessed child. What I really liked in Last Night at the Circle Cinema was the absence of predictable tropes like boys head-butting each other because of a girl, along with anguished deliberating, probably in the form of IM conversations, about the respective merits of these supposed paramours. Everything that happens here is completely realistic and relatable. As a girl with two male friends, Livvy is understandably drawn to them both, for different reasons; Bertucci and Codnam are two halves of the same coin, with one creative and erratic, and the other steady and reliable. At no point did I want to shout at Livvy to make the obvious choice, because there wasn’t one. None of this was overwrought or melodramatic; it felt completely real and interesting.
“‘Shrodinger’s Equation,’ I said, forcing a grin. ‘Early eighties band with girl lead singer and exploding drummer.’
Bertucci nodded, the tension easing. ‘Excellent band name. And of course they paint the formula on the front of the drum and are remembered into eternity.’
‘German influences with a touch of Italian pop for levity,’ Codman said, and order between the three of us was restored.” – page 33
There’s a humor to the book which I enjoyed too. I feel like I would’ve been friends with these characters when I was eighteen, and part of that is because of how convincingly drawn they are. Franklin alternates the narrative between the three characters, with each having a voice that is distinct without being caricatured. There’s a unity of sense and time reminiscent of classical theatre, with the primary action taking place in one setting, over one night, with just a handful of characters; this economy of structure allows the narrative to really hone in on Bertucci, Codnam, and Livvy, as well as keeping the novel under 200 pages, which makes it a particularly appealing read.
I will voice my a complaint with Last Night at the Circle Cinema, which was the frequent and clearly unnecessary references to intimate parts of the female characters’ physiques. In a novel which is so sensitively written, these references stood out as clunky. I don’t find it particularly beneficial to know the bra size of the characters I’m reading about, but maybe that’s just me.
Last Night at the Circle Cinema uses its deceptively simple premise to draw the reader in, sucker-punching you very near the end in a way which makes the experience of reading it intensely rewarding. To say any more would be to spoil it, but it’s definitely worth picking this book up. Franklin’s style is subtle and, most importantly, her teenagers actually sound like teenagers. There’s a mood to the book which anyone who’s been eighteen will understand–that sudden sense life is galloping forward, perhaps without actually waiting for you, and the realization one of your life’s major chapters is complete.
Last Night at the Circle Cinema is available now at GPL.