The Last Cuentista

By Donna Barba Higuera

12-year-old Petra is devastated to say goodbye to her beloved Abuelita, but her grandmother is not one of those chosen to leave the planet for far-distant Sagan before a comet hurtling towards Earth obliterates it. Petra’s scientist parents are, however, so Petra and little brother Javier must join them on a journey expected to last 375 years. The bulk of the passengers will spend the time in cryosleep, tended to by a small number of monitors, humans who will live their entire lives on the space ship solely for the purpose of tending to their human cargo and precious possessions for humanity to begin again in another solar system. However as Petra lowers herself into her travel pod preparing to be put to sleep, something goes wrong. In a hurried departure from Earth, Petra is immobilised but still conscious, awake long enough to hear of the change of mission for the ship, the first rumblings of something ominous afoot. When she is woken centuries later, Petra discovers that a sinister group called the Collective have taken over the ship. Barely recognisable as humans, they are determined to build a brave new world of consensus (based on brain-washing), and wish to wipe out all memories of life on Earth. To her horror, Petra discovers that most of the passengers have been purged, and those that remain have had their memories wiped. Petra is the only one to remember. Can Petra find her family, escape the Collective, and make stories from the past live again?

There is a lot to this book, so to avoid giving spoilers I will limit my comments to what I loved the most.

The premise. The thought of going into space, even without the cryosleep pods, scares me. To wake up 375 years later to find the space craft taken over by an evil Collective is absolutely terrifying. This story has an exciting hook, and huge potential for lots more related stories.

Petra. She is a lovely character, whose kindness shines through not only in how she treats Javier but how she treats all the kids she meets on board. She is also clever, courageous, and determined, an admirable heroine. I loved how she adapts the stories from Earth to help the other kids break free of their brain-washing.

The story. It’s very exciting, as Petra takes on the Collective, and endeavours to find a way to save everyone she can, even Voxy (another great character). I wasn’t clear on a couple of plot points, but this didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story. There are a few flashbacks to Petra’s life on Earth peppered throughout the story, which will appeal a lot to some readers. I was more interested in the Collective-Sagan storyline. Be warned, it’s a powerful, compelling and exciting story, but perhaps not for those looking for light-hearted escapism.

Themes. The importance of stories and story-telling, recalling your past and knowing where you came from, the value of life and the individual, questioning the value of consensus, and showing how some use, manipulate and dispose of others that don’t comply or suit their purposes were threaded throughout the story.

The Last Cuentista is a Cybils finalist in the Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction category. I would consider it best suited to older middle grade readers, 12+, or those who like weightier reads.

TOTP and I really enjoyed it, awarding an enthusiastic 9 out 10 diamonds.

16 responses to “The Last Cuentista”

  1. Wow—this sounds like such a terrifyingly thrilling and compelling story! It seems like the kind of plot I would expect more in YA than in MG, but I can imagine that MG readers who wish they could read YA kinds of books will adore this one! And I know Donna Barba Higuera’s other books have garnered a lot of praise. Thanks so much for the wonderful review, Valinora!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were quite a few books in the middle grade category nominated for Cybils that I initially thought more teen – until I remembered that I started reading adult books at 9 or 10, and middle grade seems to go to 14 anyway 🙂 Definitely upper MG though, skirting YA. Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! This is a very different story. Made me think of Avatar and the travel to Pandora. That would terrify me too. But a brain-washing collective is very sinister. Petra is such a brave and engaging character and she has quite a mission to remind the survivors of who they are. Loved how you wrote this review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ooooh! I love a good speculative fiction story. The very first book I ever bought (at a scholastic book fair) was sci-fi. So this one is definitely going on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

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