Nostalgia in all its forms presents us with a colored view of the past that is both wonderful and comforting. The Last Great Halloween is a Trudy McFarlan novel by Rootie Simms that reminds the reader of what it was like to be young in the 60s and 70s. Although the book seems to be written for youngsters, anyone who reads it knows that it’s really meant to let adults remember their childhoods once again. In fact, the idea is actually presented in the book in a manner that I found quite gracious—that Halloween parties for adults let them become children again for just a little while. I’d be surprised if the adults reading the books to their children didn’t end up spending an interesting afternoon or two reminiscing in a way that children actually find attractive. The book is about building bridges, even though it hides its goal in the clothing of historical fiction.
The writing style flows quite well and I quickly found myself caring about the characters—not just Trudy, but all of the children in the story because they all had a distinct role to play. The characters are quite believable, not by today’s standards, but by the standards of children from that time. The cares, concerns, activities, ventures, and prejudices are all firmly rooted in the time. It’s the issue of prejudice that some readers might find a bit off putting, but I found it quite true of the time. There weren’t any societies of the politically correct at the time—people tended to say and act upon what they really believed, right, wrong, or indifferent. For this reason alone, the book truly is more than good fiction, it’s also good history.
A good book entertains, a great book educates—this one does both. However, I found the discussion of sex education as it was presented in the past a little out of place during my first read. I still think the author could have potentially covered some other topic because the sex education incident never appears again and doesn’t actually add anything to the plot of the book. However, the girl’s view of sex education—a ham handed attempt that usually failed to meet its objective, worked well with the boy’s view that I remember from my school days. The incident does serve to remind those of us who grew up then that education of the time wasn’t everything we keep making it out to be. Even then, some things just weren’t covered very well (and sometimes not at all).
Other than the sex education scene (which you can easily skip if you’re easily offended), the book focuses on Trudy’s party. It doesn’t seem at first that a child’s party would make good fodder for a book, but Trudy is at that age where she’s not quite a child anymore and yet, not quite a teenager either—a tween by today’s reckoning. In addition, her friends add some interesting plot twists and the adults chime in to make matters even more complicated. The book is an incredibly interesting read and I can truly say that I didn’t put it down. I can’t often say that I get quite so immersed in a book. (It also helps that this book is a relatively short read.)
By the end of the book, everything is as it should be—Trudy’s party is an amazing success. Of course, you know that before you even turn the first page. It’s the journey that makes the difference in this book. Everything from collecting and turning pop bottles in to get a little extra cash, to the kinds of puzzles that kids gave away during the time are authentic. It’s a happy book. I finished it in a truly good mood.
Is this a good book or a great book? I feel it’s a great book because it does educate as well as entertain. The author has really done her homework about issues of the time—the political forces and upheaval that people faced during the time that we’d find incomprehensible today, all viewed from the perspective of an eleven year old who isn’t sure whether she really wants a party after all. The book does have a few flaws, but they’re easy to overlook because of the entertainment value the book provides. You do need to read the book with an open mind. This is historical fiction so the characters are products of their time. You can’t judge them by today’s standards.