Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick

Date reviewed: 4/10/03      author’s website

Grades 6-8

Summary: Set in a post-Holocaust future, Spaz (so named because he has epilepsy and suffers seizures) is a thief sent to rob an old gummy called Ryter (because he writes). The old man helps Spaz travel through unknown areas to see his sister who is dying of the “blood sickness” (leukemia).  Spaz and company must deal with vicious community gang leaders who create their own rules. Many citizens are mindless due to their reliance on mind probes which offer a TV-like escape from their harsh reality. In their travels, Spaz and Ryter meet Lanaya, a “proov” (genetically improved human), and the question arises of why the proovs do nothing to assist the normals.

Personal Reaction: I don’t think that this is appropriate for a third grader, or even a fourth. It is too violent and scary. I wasn’t as impressed with this as I was with The Giver by Lowry, but then again maybe I just have something against hopeless situations. I am not sure that Spaz understands the importance of the task he is assigned nor capable of bringing about change as Lanaya can. Am I being prejudiced? I also think that much of the vocabulary could have been better explained.

Points for discussion with children:  genetic alteration, holocaust living situations, survival, writing as a form of historical documentation

Possible classroom uses: This book could be used to discuss why books are important as a historical resource and therefore begin a historical fiction unit with a bang. The book will bring about discussion of current events such as cloning and genetic alteration. This book could also be used in a debate unit with euthanasia as a topic – do some people deserve to live more than others?

Connections to other books? The Giver or Gathering Blue by Lowry both incorporate aspects of the euthanasia discussion. Other disaster/survival fiction like Lord of the Flies by Golding or even The Postman by Brin (gr8 and up) will demonstrate how close we are to a brutalistic society.

Realia: handwritten biographical novel, thin metal “needle” to represent the mind probe, chess game, nonfiction examples: Explaining Epilepsy and Leukemia (Health Alert).

Food items connected to story: chocolate bars, spam chunks as protein squares

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