I received this book via Netgalley, My Book Shelf. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.
Published by Ballantine Books on 2016-07-12
Length: 304 pages
Reviewing eARC, Audiobook from Netgalley, My Book Shelf
Reading Challenges: #NGEW2017, 2017 Dystopia Reading Challenge, Blogger Shame Review Challenge 2017
Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.
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.
Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.
I struggled to finish The Last One by Alexandra Oliva. I wanted to like it. I really did. The premise sounded so promising. Reality TV mixed with true life apocalypse? What’s real vs what’s done for TV? I was all in. But the book is nothing like I thought it would be.
First off the blurb is a bit misleading. “Widespread destruction” needs to be replaced with “World-wide pandemic.” In the opening chapters we learn that Zoo is awakening after being really sick. She’s disoriented and trying to figure out how much time has passed and how to get to her next challenge. The narrator/TV announcer type (I’m not really sure what to call this narrator) lets the reader know that most of the world is dead because of some virus. Yet the contestants don’t know what is happening outside of the bubble of the show so they continue on. It’s a little confusing as it is told from alternating POV. Zoo is the main character and tells the story from the time she wakes up from being sick. The other narrator is like an outside participant/TV announcer/honestly I’m not sure that narrates from the time of the opening of the show. So basically as the reader we alternate chapters from past to present and it gets confusing fast. In addition to the odd narrator’s POV there are also some blog comment threads thrown in for good measure that really threw me off as well. It just didn’t flow well and disrupted the plot/pacing.
Zoo is an easy character to like. We never really learn her real name. She is one of 12 contestants who signed up to do the show. For her, it’s like a last hoorah before she resigns herself to motherhood (yes she looks at this negatively….I tried not to hold it against her ?). She’s smart, worked at her local zoo and taught classes to elementary students who visited. She’s also an outdoorsman. So she finds she can complete the challenges of the show. She’s competitive so she tries to glean as much as she can from her fellow contestants. I like her tenacity. Her competitiveness I think saves her from going crazy when she wakes up alone after being sick. As a reader, you’ll pick that up fairly fast.
However Zoo’s downfall is her neglect at recognizing what is going on around her. She somehow finds herself back in civilization and convinces herself that everything she encounters is produced by the show, staged bodies, even a preteen cameraman. It’s sad and as a reader you realize way before Zoo that something isn’t right.
For me, I could have enjoyed this book without the alternate POV chapters. These chapters lost me. There is no warning that you are in a different perspective and it is like the TV producer/announcer/editor is walking you through the challenges as the contestants do them. BUT occasionally he will give you a clue about what is happening outside the show, like the sickness that is rapidly spreading. If it wasn’t for the fact that I decided to buy an Audible copy of this book, I may not have finished it. The alternating chapters just didn’t work for me. At least with the audiobook, these chapters are recorded by different voices. If you decide to listen, you’ll understand why I call the one narrator a TV announcer ?
Overall, this book was just ok for me. I took issue with Zoo’s unwillingness to recognize what is happening to her. Yes it adds an element of suspense/thriller to the book, but I thought it made her character unnecessarily cruel, especially when she interacts with the preteen “cameraman.” Not to mention the alternating chapters….it just made it hard to follow the plot. If you enjoy survival/post-apocalyptic novels, you may enjoy this book. It wasn’t for me.