Reviews /

The Last Storyteller

Authored by Donna Barba Higuera
Published by Picadilly Press

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The Last Storyteller was the winner of the 2022 Newberry Medal and features a young female protagonist, Petra Peña, as she travels through time and space in a bid to escape a devastated earth. This is a darkly gripping science fiction story, which blends the importance of storytelling, with a dystopian political and environmental setting.

The book opens with the Earth about to be destroyed by an impact with Halley’s comet and Petra and her family joining one of three spacecraft and its expert scientific passengers. The ship is destined for a journey to a new earth-like planet, whilst the majority of its passengers sleep for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, some of the monitors who will live out their lives on the ship caring for those in stasis form the Collective—a society that evolves physically and erases the history, culture, and stories of humanity. When Petra awakens, she finds herself a servant to the Collective with only her stories and scientific background to save her and the remaining relics of the human race.

I particularly enjoyed the way in which the gift of storytelling and the ancient Mexican myths were interwoven throughout this futuristic story. However, I found the plot thought-provoking and quite disturbing in places. As Petra watches her young brother being forcibly restrained and put to sleep, she knows that this will shortly be happening to her. The idea of remaining conscious, whilst she is immobile and silent, is horrifying and the more sensitive teenage reader may feel quite disturbed at this point. I would also have liked to see an English translation of the small sections of Spanish text.

I think the book is intended for readers of 10+ but may be more appropriate for older teenagers. The dystopian sci-fi plot is not that unusual but Petra’s family background and the exploration of the idea of myth as a method for transmitting human history and knowledge make for an intriguing read.