The Last Cuentista

Written by Donna Barba Higuera

It’s literally the end of the world: a solar flare has knocked Haley’s Comet into a catastrophic collision course with Earth. But for almost-13-year-old Petra and her family there is an opportunity in the midst of this tragedy: they must leave their grandmother and their home in the New Mexico desert to secretly board an interstellar ship on a mission to colonize a new planet. Petra’s family is chosen as part of the mission because her parents are expert scientists with knowledge needed for exploring and terraforming the new planet. They will be put into stasis for the nearly 400 year space journey, and along the way Petra will receive a cognitive learning implant that will make her an expert in botany and geology when she arrives and is brought out of stasis. More than that, though, she also carries within her the Mexican folklore her grandmother shared with her, and the desire to be a storyteller, and preserve the stories of humanity. When she is brought out of stasis, not to her parents but to a future far different and more precarious than what was planned, her stories and Earth memories might be the only hope for saving what is left of humanity.

This book launches with a seemingly typical near-future sci-fi premise, but is unique as a middle-grade novel centering the story around a young person’s perspective. The author expertly interweaves Petra’s present predicament with flashbacks to her life on earth before the journey, as well as folklore and tales she learned from her Grandmother, which turn out to be absolutely prescient to her current situation light years from Earth. The book has positive echoes of middle-grade classics like The Giver and the Wrinkle in Time books, but with a contemporary flair, a fresh Mexican American perspective, and perhaps higher stakes for the characters. Beyond being a gripping science fiction adventure, it is filled with topics and situations for tween readers to discuss and think about, which would make it great for a book club or classroom study.

Reviewed by Joshua Whiting, Library Media Program, Granite Educational Technology Department
Review shared in October 2021
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 5 and Up

Author Website:

The Last Cuentista
Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Levine Querido
320 pages
Release Date: October 12, 2021
ISBN: 9781646140893
A review copy was not provided by the publisher.

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