I’m a tough reviewer. After all, I’m an English teacher (see my badge). I’ve read heaps of books, analyzed so many they’ve become eye-molested piles of papyrus. Thus it’s rare I’m shocked or read something I label “original” in any manner. I argue continuously that original thought exists not in books today but rather the latest novel is likely an existence of recycling stories into contemporary tales, upheaving themselves and saying, “Hi, my name is modern literature” (hello, modern literature!). Yup, I’m a skeptic. Don’t get me started on the past five years of dystopian lit. What started off as inventive and worthwhile now seems contrived. Then a few days ago, I began reading The Last One. I finished a few minutes ago. Here is my face now (thanks BuzzFeed and Taylor Swift!):
And while we can sit to argue its originality, there’s no doubt mad props must be given to the author, Alexandra Oliva, on this one. The premise hooked me from the get-go. A Survivor-like reality show called “Into the Dark” features 12 contestants vying for a $500K prize. No vote-outs. No tribal meetings. Just survive. Last one standing. “Zoo” as she is nicknamed is the protag-contestant. Now imagine mid-game while on a solo mission, cameramen are no longer seen. The host is gone. You’re alone (or are you?) And where are the other players? Traveling through locations, it seems an outbreak of some kind has occurred (or has it?). Is this part of the game or is this reality?
To say this book delves into a mélange of psychological mind-f**ks is an understatement (sorry, there is just no alternate word in my thesaurus). My psychology degree reared its ugly head as I yelled out, “Coping Mechanism!” “Diffusion of Responsibility!” and “Decision Aversion!” (I warned you it was ugly).
How does the mind cope when faced with the thought that you are now alone and most of the world is gone? That everything and everyone you love might be dead? That the world is… gone? (yes I said it twice). Are these thoughts reality or is reality that you are trapped in a bizarre gameshow? This was the entire angle of the book that lured me in. Picture a mad scientist with a hooked finger beckoning the little children to gather ‘round for a story. You’re scared of the story (and the scientist) but you simply MUST hear it because well, this guy freaks you out, and you LIKE it (insert evil laugh).
Other talking points in the book would be how the media skews and edits to show an alternate truth for TV ratings. I also thought it was completely honest how contestants were defined – gender/race/occupation. Yes, the liberal side of me wants to protest “that’s not RIGHT”, but I just caught myself saying to my mom “you know, the black gay guy” while describing Jozea from season 18 of Big Brother (don’t judge my terrible taste in TV. I have GREAT taste in books!). The fact is, we do marginalize our view of people on TV and we DO pare down our views into these brief descriptions. The WHY of that is up for your next book discussion after you read this book. And you MUST read it.
Highly recommend this one for: book clubs (you will have a LOT to discuss, and PLEASE invite me!!), dystopian/apocalyptic lit fans, psychological book fans, teachers (I would LOVE to put this in my class book rotation), anyone looking for an un-put-down-able book.
Sincere thanks to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine for an advanced copy of this book and for making me stay up way too late and missing sleep to read it.