Book Review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Summary: 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 man-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 quite enjoyed this one. Admittedly, the blurb referencing Station Eleven and also The Passage pulled me in. I'd read the former within the last month or so & had just finished reading the final installment in the latter's trilogy. So was I ready to read more post-apocalyptic fiction? Most definitely. I'm not exactly sure where this comes in as an intersection between the two but as a reader of both of those books, I did enjoy this, so the mentions worked this time.

Zoo (our main character, her name is revealed very near the end) is a participant in what promised to be a all out blockbuster budget reality show. I admit now that I've never watched any reality television so I can't say how the portrayal of that part of the story matches with actual. I don't know that I appreciated that part of the story as much as I could if I were more familiar with them. Honestly, none of the characters who peopled The Dark Wood stayed with me and ultimately, they didn't feel as important that the time spent with them would have suggested. What I did appreciate was the unvarnished look in at the staging of it all from casting to how drama and events may be created or obscured by a master manipulator, the editor. It was cringeworthy in a way that felt true and I thought it was well done.

What I very much enjoyed was the part of then story that was focused on Zoo once she is away from the group and after she's entered the world in the after. Her thoughts about her husband and parents were rendered well and also her anxiety about becoming a mother. She was an interesting character to follow and I cared about her mental state but also understood the duality of believing the game to be wholly immersive and the denial that the world has gone through something utterly cataclysmic and she may be alone. Who wouldn't want to cling to the idea that the game was still in play and everything in the wasteland is all a set piece? But I still desperately wanted her to have something happen that jarred her in a way that she could deny no longer. This aspect of the story held good tension. I won't spoil because the journey is so worth it but I will say that as a girl with glasses, I empathized with her trekking along with only one lens remaining from her broken pair. I don't know how long I could stand it, in the after, with my uncorrected vision. I was amazed she wasn't rooting through a drug store earlier on for a pair of Foster Grants or whatever. Who knew I could muster so much happiness to have a character finally come upon a Lens Crafters?!

I did think there were a few happenstances that felt a bit trite in the ending (spoiler removed) but I didn't mind them enough that my overall enjoyment was hindered. I loved all things Brennan.

Definitely recommended and I'll keep a lookout for future books by the author. This is definitely a very good debut.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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