The Last One has an intriguing premise- twelve contestants in a survival reality show are in the wilderness when a deadly pandemic occurs without them knowing. As the show had some extreme special effects, the main character of the story nicknamed Zoo, believes the death and destruction she stumbles upon are all fake. Determined to not give up and lose the game she continues on, even when what she sees and experiences defies credibility. The chapters alternate between the beginning of the show when all the contestants and the host (who I pictured as Dean Cain) had started the challenges, and Zoo on her later solo trek explaining away everything that no longer makes sense. She meets a fellow survivor, who she thinks is a cameraman undercover, and they hike towards her home. But reality crashes into her fake explanations, and she has to face up to what really happened. While a melancholy future awaits her, a nugget of hope is shown in the concluding pages.
If the title doesn’t already give you a clue, this grindhouse-inspired graphic novel that is set in Kentucky in 1971, pays homage to Beowulf.
The story opens with a heavily armed man heading into a mine shaft, and shifts to his adult son Denny being told of his death. He calls his sister Marnie, who is the leader of an all-girl biker gang, and asks her to head home for the funeral. The two later find out that their grandpa as a teen had been a miner who had accidentally released a monster who demanded tribute, which led to prosperity for the town, so long as the monster was fed regularly. The siblings, and Marnie’s gang, plan to slay the monster and succeed, but if you are familiar with the Beowulf story, you should know what happens next. Much death and destruction follow.
The artwork is dark and gritty and reminds me of Warlords of Appalachia, another rough and tumble tale set in Kentucky. Illustrated in traditional inks, the region and era are evocatively drawn, with a full-page fake newspaper being a special treat to find clues in. I have to admit, this lean story has some major holes in it, but I still came away pleased with the narrative. I’ve been very impressed with some titles that I have read from AWA Upshot, a new comic book publisher, and I look forward to more.
Listening to Sadie on audio was absolutely the best way to experience this book and it deserves all the stars!
The story is told from two alternating viewpoints- nineteen-year-old Sadie and West McCray, a journalist who creates a radio podcast around the mystery of Sadie and her sister Mattie. Sadie’s beloved younger sister is found murdered on the outskirts of their small depressed town and Sadie leaves their hometown to track down who she feels murdered her. When the police can’t solve the mystery of Mattie’s death or find Sadie, the girl’s surrogate grandmother contacts West to see if he can help. What follows was an achingly real journey of discovery as Sadie desperately tracks down every clue that leads her closer and closer to who she feels is responsible. West follows the crumbs of clues afterward but is often weeks or months behind Sadie’s travels. A heartbreaking picture develops, as the girls had had the cards stacked against them from the beginning- with a drug-addicted mother, no known fathers and a town with little resources to help them.
Sadie, West and the whole cast of characters became alive in the audio narration. Sadie’s stutter and desperate need for revenge are heartbreaking, West’s caring demeanor shines through, while all the others truly seem like people you’d meet in everyday life. People on the outer margins are life are realistically rendered and the sad realities of child sexual abuse are addressed. The ending will gut you- while you don’t truly know what happens to Sadie, this unflinching story will make you guess what the likely outcome is. I highly recommend this story, not only to the intended YA audience but to anyone who enjoys gritty thrillers.