Family Reads: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

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Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they’re reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book.

Why we chose Alexandra Oliva’s The Last One

Jenna with The Last OneAsh with The Last One

We had both independently seen it at Chapters and found the mash up of a reality TV survival show with an actual dystopia happening beyond the show intriguing.

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She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it human-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Our Discussion

You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve already read the book (spoilers ahead).

Ash gave this book ★★, while I gave it ★★½. Ash says it wasn’t quite a 2.5 or a 3 but it’s silly to say 2.75 (She says she would borrow it from the library, though.) I don’t think it’s worth recommending, though it wasn’t painful to read.

We felt The Last One fell short of the promise of an intriguing story. Our main criticism is that the before (TV show) and the after (Zoo on her own) felt too disjointed. The reality TV narrative didn’t do much to inform Zoo’s actions on her own, aside to create a context in which it might be believable that Zoo doesn’t know there’s be an apocalyptic disease breakout. We would have liked to see more blurring between the TV show’s ‘reality’ and actual reality.  Time wise, the reader doesn’t see a lot of the TV show story line – it takes place over one week and includes only one dramatic incident (the show is apparently meant to be different from your average Survivor, as Reddit commentary in the book informs us – there are supposedly going to be some dark, twisted scenarios for the contestants to encounter). It was so obvious for the reader which of the two narratives were which; maybe if the TV part had gone on longer the line between the two would have been more blurred, making it more interesting for the reader. The TV show didn’t get to its intense, controversial part until far into the book and then it was just one incident, which admittedly was pretty fascinating, but we would have liked to have that scene near the beginning and then more of the characters getting twisted up by the show’s scenarios, because then when she finds the blue house, you would more easily believe that it was part of the show. Admittedly, this would significantly change the story…but we think it would change it into one that we’d be more interested in, haha.

One question I had was, would this story have been more interesting if the reader didn’t know the dystopic premise before hand? Ash pointed out that would make Zoo much more of an unreliable narrator, because (in the book) eventually the reader realizes how much she had actually been in denial and wasn’t just oblivious. Zoo would be better informed than the reader, if they didn’t know about the disease going into the book. I thought it was a bit boring that we (the readers) knew what was going on and she kept trying to play the game, even though it was obviously not the game for so long.  Ash is undecided about whether that would have been more interesting. I admit unreliable narrators stress me out, but Zoo wasn’t lying about anything, she just wasn’t accepting the  context.

Another aspect that fell short for us was the characters. Zoo was alright, but we would have liked more about her relationship with her husband. We felt there were some echos of Annihilation, where the main character the biologist has a notable relationship with her husband, but there was very little about Zoo’s husband. The focus was more on Zoo’s fears of having children (which did make for some interesting dream commentary) and less about her relationship with her husband. There are tiny hints that she might have had  sparks with Tracker but they were only together for a week.

The other characters on the TV show, who we actually read more about, weren’t interesting or memorable. They felt  very archetypal, even when the descriptions of their actions tried to go beyond the TV show’s stereotyping.  The Exorcist, for example, was mostly just a basic asshat.

The pacing also wasn’t what we expected. Ash found the story felt slow due to Zoo’s inner monologues and some parts that felt irrelevant being described in too much detail (for example, she mentioned one part where Zoo was trying to decide whether to eat something). We also talked about the ending being pretty blah and predictable. Ash would have preferred an abrupt, unresolved conclusion in this case. I didn’t care anything about her relationship with her husband so the conclusion wasn’t interesting to me. So they’re both alive – I don’t really care.

 Final Thoughts

While we both thought The Last One had a promising premise, too many factors were lacking to make it a great read for us. Does The Last One‘s story line appeal to you? What do you think of the portrayal of reality TV in a novel?

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