Title: The Last Cuentista
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy, Dystopian
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Levine Querido
Date Published: October 12, 2021
You can find it here: Bookshop.org
Había una vez . . .
There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita.
But Petra’s world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children – among them Petra and her family – have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race.
Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet – and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity’s past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard – or purged them altogether.
Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again?
“Books become our language. Books become our home. Books become our lives.”
Holy smackers! This book doesn’t mess around, coming into the ring on page one and hitting the reader with a massive one-two punch in the gut. I’ll just say it straight up, there is little relief from there on out.
But holy crap is this one unique, arresting, and powerful story. Earth has been destroyed along with most of humanity, minus the few hundred carefully chosen scientists, their families, and a selection of designated caretakers that will reside on two massive ships destined for a planet in another galaxy some 400 years away. Our main character Petra and her family are essentially cryogenically frozen and will be cared for by caretakers for the next few centuries … however, upon waking, a new world order has taken over Petra’s ship. Entitled “the collective” this militant order sees humans as a stain and seeks to eradicate all memories, mentions, and, most importantly, stories from humans time on Earth. Humans destroyed, polluted, succumbed to greed and vices and the hive mentality Collective seeks to begin anew … even if it means great sacrifice and “purging”. Luckily Petra is “flawed” and has resisted “reprogramming” to erase her love of stories.
I couldn’t have picked a better time to read this novel as our current climate is once again defending the rights of books against censorship. This novel celebrates the power of story while fully acknowledging and never sugar coating the damnable, corrupt side of humanity. The interwoven tender moments of Petra’s memory provides some much needed moments of brevity in this incredibly heavy middle grade. I have read adult fiction fantasy and young adult fantasy that doesn’t hit as hard as this middle grade and readers should be prepared for that going in.
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