The Last of Will is a novel that takes the heavy subjects of death and mortality and gives in a humorous spin. It can be enjoyed by both teens and adults; everyone will find this novel funny and relatable. We discussed the book further with author Sheryl Benko. She gave us some insight on why she chose to write such an outlandish tale and how her own struggles with death inspired her story.
What inspired you to write The Last of Will?
In 2009, a dear friend of mine died suddenly from a heart attack, and I was really struggling to come to terms with her loss. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that someone so vibrant could just be gone, in an instant. About two months after she passed, I was driving and pulled up next to a Hearse that someone had clearly modified to use as their “everyday” car. I remember thinking how bizarre it would be to drive around in a vehicle that was once used to transport the deceased, and how you’d have to have a sense of humor to do so. And then I thought of my friend and could hear her laughter, knowing that she would find that funny. It was the first time since her passing that I was able to think of her and not cry. And the idea grew from there.
Can you tell us about The Last of Will from your point of view?
Given the subject matter, my perspective may seem odd, but I’ve never considered it to be a story about death. I see it as a story that celebrates life, with all of its absurdities and challenges, and the strange, hilarious, wrenching, magical and unexpected journeys that fate compels along the way.
Can you tell me three fun facts about the main characters of your book?
For better or worse, Greer is very much my teenage self — a bit cynical but well-meaning, with the constant narrative of her life playing in her head like a mix tape. I vividly remember being 15, and the anticipation and all-out pursuit of getting a driver’s license. I would gladly manufacture or latch onto any excuse to drive. Of course, now that I’m older and in L.A., now I’m thrilled to NOT get in the car!
Greer’s Grandma is based on my Grandma, who actually did say many of the things that Greer recounts. My Grandma lived with us when I was in high school, and I actually did come home one day to find her watching baseball on the Spanish-language station, with the sound turned down — because she said “it’s all gibberish.”
I was extremely close to my dad, who is a lot like Greer’s father, Will. My dad suddenly lost his job when I was in high school. He had worked at a steel mill for over 20 years, when his job was pulled out from under him. I remember the emotional and financial toll it took on our family, and my parents both taking whatever odd jobs they could, to keep us supported. So, Will’s choice to apply at the cemetery is not as much desperation, as it is a determination to provide for his family, by whatever means necessary. Greer comes to appreciate her dad’s sacrifice and the value of hard work, just as I did with my own father.
What do you want readers to know about The Last of Will?
The process of writing this book healed me, and helped me to come to terms with grief through embracing laughter. Both of my parents passed away during the years when I was writing the book. So, by tapping into memories of them, and channeling them through Greer’s parents, I got to relive the experience of having them in my everyday life. And whenever I miss them, I can pick up the book and read a little bit, and immediately feel like we’re all together again.
What is your favorite passage from The Last of Will?
I love the exchange when Greer is trying to convince her dad that there could be a hit man following them, ala “No Country For Old Men.” While trying to tamp down her paranoia, her dad inquires, “Since when do you watch R-rated movies?” And Greer scoffs, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.”
What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers after finishing The Last of Will?
That family and friends are always with us, even after they depart this life. Many of the character names in the book are names of loved ones I’ve lost, and it’s my way of acknowledging their memories, and letting their essence breathe life into these characters. Because like William says in his farewell letter, “There is no distance great enough that we won’t hear each other.”
What do you want the world to know about The Last of Will?
That it is a story for both teenagers and adults, because no matter how old we are, there is always that teenager lingering inside of us, and infusing the way we see the world. Plus, I believe that while jokes may be largely cultural, the essence of humor can translate into any language and demographic. Funny is funny — and I truly hope that people will find this book funny, touching and relatable — in whatever way it translates to the story of their own life.
Do you have any future writing projects?
I am currently developing a story that I describe as a “children’s book for adults,” in that it relates to the rhetoric that consumes our daily lives, and the importance of rising above the noise, to make our voices heard.