Last Night at the Circle Cinema felt like the hipster version of a YA novel – pretentious. I ground my teeth a lot. You might like it, but it wore me out. Three stars because the ending was worth it.
Olivia, Bertucci, and Codman were the trio no one else in high school could quite figure out, an impenetrable triangle of friendship. Now they’re graduating and about to start new lives away at college and without one another. Beyond their friendship, there’s one thing they have in common: the Circle Cinema, a once-thriving old movie theater now reduced to a boarded up concrete box, condemned and about to be forgotten forever―which is, as far as Olivia and Codman can tell, a lot like what’s going to happen to them.
So in one last desperate effort to hold on to the secrets they share, Bertucci hatches a plan―an experiment, really. He convinces Olivia and Codman to join him in spending their last night before graduation locked inside the cinema’s concrete walls. None of them can open the box before sunrise. Over the course of the night, the trio is then forced to face one another, the events of the past year, and whatever is to come when the new day dawns.
Emily Franklin’s Last Night at the Circle Cinema is the story of a friendship’s end and moving rebirth.
I’m going to tell you straight up that at 65%, I was already making plans to give myself an award for actually getting all the way through this book. I’m not afraid to say that at that point it made me feel dumber than I know I am, and I thought it was a little pretentious. The premise warns readers that the three characters are an indecipherable triangle that no one in their high school can understand or penetrate and you should know that it absolutely means you might not be able to decipher them either. Then the ending changed everything. It was like someone took a Rubic’s cube that I had been playing with for hours and suddenly lined everything up and said, “See?” and I did. I’m not going to let the glow of sudden comprehension mess with me too much, but it did change my outright irritation with the story into something else. So, if the ending makes the journey worth the trouble, why am I not fangirling right now? Because I think too many readers will put this book down out of boredom or frustration before they find the golden ticket. First, the narrative requires a lot of concentration. It is crowded with three different storytellers, and I really struggled with keeping the two male characters straight. I don’t know why it was so hard for me to distinguish between boy B and boy C, but every time the narrative left Livvy, I had to stop and sort them out again. Also, the narrative isn’t linear and switches between past and present without any real warning. Second, the level these kids operate on is not a traditional high school level. There is philosophy. There is psychology. They discuss the Roshoman effect, which is something I didn’t encounter until well into my adulthood, and while it is a cool thing to know about, I just don’t think it is something a target YA reader will have the context for. Let me be clear that the author does explain these concepts in a pretty straightforward way, and anyone who has any liberal arts education will probably know what is being referenced, even if they don’t remember it clearly. It is just tedious until readers can see the shape of the story as a whole, and I think it is a struggle that an average teen reader will find daunting. I think it is great that this book could encourage people to at least google some of these intellectual ideas. This is a moody work with an impressively taunt and threatening atmosphere. I talked myself out of various answers to the riddle (including the correct one) again and again while I read. For some readers, the end will blow their mind. For some readers, it will be a book they will have to read again just to see what they missed. For others, it will be a dense maze that they will abandon long before they find the treasure.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.