Monday, September 14, 2009

REVIEW: The Last Days

Westerfeld, S.  (2007).  The Last Days.  New York:  Razorbill.


So, with the conclusion of Peeps, this book's prequel, an ancient version of the plague was on the rise in New York City and other parts of the world.  The Last Days follows a different group of teens experiences as the plague continues to spread.  And it actually jumps back and forth among the perspectives of all of the band-mates.

The Last Days opens with a crazed woman throwing possessions out of her third-floor apartment.  When Moz sees her send a mid-seventies Fender Stratocaster flying, he and another bystander act quickly to save the valuable electric guitar.  And that is how Moz met Pearl.  Moz has been in a band with his best friend, Zahler, for years, but when Pearl joins the mix, the internal power struggles begin.  As more people are chosen to complete the band, Pearl invites her old friend, Minerva, a struggling peep (vampire), to sing for them, which provides some complications, both in terms of the emotions their music provokes and how the band members feel about one another.

Of course, a plague that threatens all of New York City slowly bubbling up into the street forms the background as the band's struggles to get along and to finally pick the band's name.  Among the group's efforts to get a record deal, they wonder about the state of civilization.  What is the future of New York City when sanitation conditions are worsening and people are fleeing the city?  Underlying this is the way that technology  have helped to allow viruses to spread quickly throughout the world (Was Westerfeld predicting a medical scare over a virus such as swine flu?  Yes, yes, more that a little.)

While this wasn't exactly what I would have expected from the sequel to Peeps, the story of the 'everyteen' dealing with ordinary life and a potential apocalypse does entertain.  And of course, the band may have a surprising role in being able to avoid said apocalypse.

A couple of the featured characters from Peeps do reappear, but readers will have to wait almost 200 pages to meet them again.

The Last Days could work either after reading Peeps or as a stand alone read (in which case the tensions are a little different and the notes from the Night Mayor a little confusing for a while).  There are of course, references to Peeps, so it would provide more insights if a reader took on Peeps first.

Overall, I had more trouble getting into The Last Days than I did Peeps.  I think I had trouble finding the drama and tension in the story.  While I cared about one or two of the characters in the band, others annoyed me (Minerva!  Hiss!).  It got to the point where I only had 20 or 30 pages left in the book, and the only reason I finished reading them was out of obligation, not because I really cared what happened anymore.


The Last Days is a good book to discuss disaster and influenza from the safety of fiction.  A teacher could bring in recent articles over the Swine Flu panic.  The book also lends itself to discussions of the history of diseases, vampire lore, and considerations of power struggles (on various levels) and discussions over class.

This is a good book to recommend to a music aficionado or actual teen musician, since each of the chapters is named for a different band.

Quotes of Note:

"I think New York was leaking.
It was past midnight and still a hundred degrees.  Some kind of city sweat was oozing up through the sidewalk cracks, shimmering with oily rainbows in the streetlights.  The garbage piled up outside the restaurants on Indian Row was seeping, leftover curry turning into slurry.  The glistening plastic bags would smell jaw-droppingly foul the next morning, but as I walked past that night, they still gave off the perfumes of saffron and freshly thrown-out rice" (p. 3).

"Why bother with riffs and solos and lyrics when all the crowd wanted was an avalanche of screams and smashed Ikea furniture?" (p. 5).

"Pearl thought that "fate" had brought us together, but that was the wrong word for it.  Fate hadn't made the woman go insane.  People had been edgy this whole weird summer, what with the crime wave, the rat wave, and the crazy-making heat.  That was bigger than Pearl and Zahler and me" (p. 23).

"I saw the pules in her throat, and the beast inside me growled.
Mustn't eat Pearl, I reminded myself" (pp. 47-48).

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