“I’ve been told for the last few years that I should share my story, but my journey has been too painful and destroyed too much of my health for me to rehash the past,” starts the foreword to the heartwarming, clean romance novel, The Last Chapter (Arthur House). “I never set out to be a single mother of a son with autism, sensory processing disorder and ADHD.”
As I read this, I wasn’t sure whether it was a note from the book’s author, Michelle Alstead; or the main character in her book, Emma Barton; or the main character in Emma Barton’s book.
It was written by Alstead, but truth be told: It could have been any of the three. That’s how connected they are.
She continues, “I couldn’t write my story, but I was able to write a story which has elements of what I’ve endured.”
Before you go off the deep end, this is an incredibly uplifting and inspiring read. Outside of one quasi bit player, there are really no bad guys. You find yourself sympathizing with and pulling for all the main characters. Sometimes you twist with frustration, practically willing Alstead to hash things out the way you want her to, but understanding all the while the challenges and obstacles of Emma’s plight.
Things get off to a rocky start for Emma. In the book’s first 11 pages, she loses her day job, is informed that her autistic child JD has been suspended from school, and is told that her publisher is giving up on her novel and cutting her loose.
A single mother (as you know) with a child in constant need of supervision, structure and medication, here’s a woman in dire need of a break. She gets a small one when a friend is able to get her book on the shelf of a local library – hardly a financial breakthrough, but we’ll take it.
Enter Ethan Wise, an actor who has achieved a degree of fame and fortune as a rom-com leading man but pines to shed his stereotype and be taken more seriously as a legitimate A-list performer.
Ethan visits his dying grandmother, a legendary screenwriter who coerces Ethan into setting a strategy in motion: Go to the local library, she says, and pick out a book with an appealing story and meaty male lead that Ethan himself can imagine handling. Nana will use her connections to get the book recommended by Oprah, which in turn will push it to the bestseller list, for which studios will then seek the rights to the screenplay. Actually, Nana has a better idea: Ethan will buy the movie rights and cast himself in the lead.
Any guesses as to which book Ethan chooses? It’s a potential life-altering moment for Emma.
Ethan flees the Hollywood hills to meet Emma in Utah to discuss the film rights. But a funny thing happens: He goes gaga upon seeing her and becomes just as interested in pursuing a romantic relationship – ADHD kid and all. Coincidences aside (such as choosing Emma’s book in the library), a true love interest at this point wasn’t in the plan. But hey, why not?
Will Ethan and Emma – with book, baggage and all – wind up together? Will JD stand in the way of a happily ever after? What other secrets are lurking that could throw the best intentions under the bus?
It’s clear Alstead knows and understands her character and the subject matter. She has lived it. But more than that, you feel in her writing great style and simplicity, and the heartache of one who is no stranger to the terrain associated with raising an autistic son on her own.
“It is my hope,” Alstead further writes in her foreword, “that someone who’s going through their own struggles will read Emma’s experience with an autistic son and find the inspiration to survive whatever troubles may plague them.”
So what is the last chapter?
The Last Chapter is now available for purchase.
About Michelle Alstead
Michelle Alstead is a single, divorced mom of a child with autism spectrum disorder, who tries to promote autism awareness and advocate for gender equality while raising Sheldon Cooper and searching for some semblance of a love life.