The Last One – Alexandra Oliva
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 human-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.
Review: Oh, mixed feelings. I really like half this book and really don’t like the other half.
The narrator—a woman identified as Zoo—wants to have a final adventure before settling down and starting a family. She decides to become a contestant on a high-budget reality show. For an unspecified length of time, Zoo must survive alone in the wilderness and face whatever challenges the show producers throw at her.
“The first one on the production team to die will be the editor.” – The Last One
What Zoo doesn’t know is that while she’s in the wilderness, a plague sweeps through the eastern US and kills most of the population. When the show’s producers and cameramen suddenly stop coming to work, Zoo isn’t sure what to think. She’s completely alone in the woods. Is this part of the show, or did something bad happen? She doesn’t know how to react. If she does the wrong thing, she could lose her chance at winning the prize money.
This story is told on two timelines. The past timeline shows Zoo’s first few days in the woods—right before everything goes wrong. The present timeline shows Zoo wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape, searching for reassurance that all the devastation is actually part of a TV program.
The Last One definitely made me think. It raises a lot of intriguing questions about reality. We live in a world of big-budget TV shows, holograms, Photoshop, and ultra-realistic special effects. Sometimes the line between real and fake can be blurry. As our technology advances, “real” and “not real” may get even more perplexing. Zoo’s confusion about the plague is completely believable. Something terrifyingly real is happening in a reality-show world where nothing is real. It messes with Zoo’s mind.
I love that this book attempts to show reality TV from the point-of-view of a contestant and a viewer. The show’s editors manipulate Zoo’s “reality” to make it entertaining for the TV audience. Zoo and the viewers are experiencing the same manufactured events in different ways. The reader gets to see those differences.
“They'll wait until I'm asleep—or nearly asleep—to strike. That's how they do it; they blur the line between reality and nightmare. They give me bad dreams, and then they make them come true.” – The Last One
I enjoyed the chapters that are told from Zoo’s point-of-view, but I got bored with the chapters that describe the show. Even though I watch a lot of reality TV, the show in this novel didn’t interest me at all. I wasn’t invested in it and didn’t completely understand the rules. Imagine you’re listening to your coworker tell you (in great detail) about a TV show you’ve never seen and don’t care about. That’s what those chapters feel like. I was tempted to skim them to get back to Zoo.
The pacing is also slightly slow. This is another post-apocalyptic novel where the character spends the majority of the book wandering around. Zoo meets some unusual people, but those meetings are interspersed with long periods of wandering.
“The brain is a terrifying and wondrous organ, and all it wants is to survive.” – The Last One
Like I said, I enjoyed half this book. It’s interesting to watch Zoo come to terms with what has happened to the world. She faces some unique problems that aren’t usually seen in post-apocalyptic literature. The author is a good writer and has fascinating ideas. I just never felt fully invested in the story because I didn’t care about the reality show.
TL;DR: What is reality? This novel does a brilliant job of exploring that question, but I got bored fairly often.