The Last Wild (2013, 322 pages)
Reviewed by Stephanie Thompson, Composition Department, Kaplan University Writing Center
Who should read this book? Fans of YA dystopian fiction will enjoy sharing this book with their pre-teens (the target age is 8-12). Torday’s novel ends on a cliffhanger, and the biographical note indicates he is working on the next part of the story.
Summary: Torday explores a world where the “red eye” virus has killed almost every animal except for “varmints” like roaches, crops have been destroyed out of fear that they will spread the disease, and humans live in sanitized Quarantine Zones. They survive by eating formula, a pink, goopy substance with flavors like “Chicken and Chips” manufactured by the Facto Corporation. This formula is their only means of sustenance.
Young Kester Jaynes has been in Spectrum Hall, a facility for problem children, for almost half of his life. He thinks he is being punished for not talking, a psychological reaction to his mother’s death. One day, he realizes he can communicate with animals; a group of roaches and pigeons helps him escape from Spectrum Hall and takes him to the Ring of Trees, where a group of animals hides from humans. They need Jaynes to find his father—a famous scientist who may have a cure for the red eye—before they, too, succumb to the disease, and animals truly become extinct.
Jaynes then embarks on a quest with a stag, a wolf, and a cockroach. Along the way, he meets Polly and her cat Sidney, who have survived outside of the Quarantine Zone, and together they search for Jaynes’ father. While their journey does end, the novel’s closing pages guarantee they are not finished fighting the evil Facto Corporation.
Why I picked this book? My son and I read together nightly, and I found this book on a recent trip to Twig, San Antonio’s independent bookstore. Since my son is nonverbal, the idea of a mute lead character appealed to me, and my love of animals also made this a must-read. Parents who read aloud with their children will love creating the voices of different animals, or for those whose children are independent readers, they can discuss the novel’s intriguing issues, particularly those about humans’ relationships with and responsibilities for protecting animals and the environment. The recent stories about the pig virus outbreak also make the novel frighteningly timely.