Alexandra Oliva's debut novel The Last One. I started it early on a Sunday morning and read straight through to the end (somewhat delaying our afternoon plans....)
Admit it, you've watched at least one episode of a reality television show. (There's lots to choose from!) In The Last One, Oliva has twelve contestants participating in a remote wilderness challenge, seeing how far they can push themselves.
"That's the whole idea behind the show, after all - to break the contestants. Though the twelve who entered the ring were told that it's about survival. That it's a race. All true, but. Even the title they were told was a deception. Subject to change, as the fine print read."
Oliva nicely skewers reality tv, with the producer and editor's comments, the cheesy host, the dehumanizing of the participants by giving them descriptors as names - Waitress, Tracker, Black Doctor, Zoo, Biology and others. It's only the contestants themselves who use their real names. The manipulation of what has been filmed, presenting the storyline they want viewers to see. "All they care about is that the viewers watch to the end." Chat room responses to the show reinforce this.
But while they're removed from society, something happens. Some sort of deadly pathogen strikes the country. While some participants realize this, others don't - they still believe they're on the show - and that the cameras are still rolling. Zoo is one of those who has no idea. The reader walks along with Zoo, who is determined not to quit - she is going to be the last one standing.
We know something has happened and see Zoo's thoughts and choices through that knowledge and question her logic. But seen through her eyes, her choices make sense. She is in survival mode - both physically and mentally.
"I had no idea it would be like this. They didn't say anything about a fake pandemic or props shaped like dead people. About animatronics or feral cats. Empty towns and abandoned children. They didn't say anything about being so alone for so long."
Dystopian/apocalyptic novels are a favourite of mine and Oliva has put a delicious spin on hers. I really liked Zoo as a character (her real name is only mentioned once). Her determination, resilience and stamina to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Oliva's imagining of her journey totally captured me - who knows what's around the next bend, what she will face, if she'll survive. There was no way to predict where the story was going to go and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book.
Oliva ends the book on a great turn. I had wondered how she could finish off such a great read, but she surprised me. The ending was just right. The Last One is absolutely one of my favourite reads this year. Read an excerpt of The Last One.
You can connect with Alexandra Oliva on her website, follow her on Twitter and find her on Facebook. I can't wait to see what she writes next.