Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

From the publisher: Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense. 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. 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. 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 attended the Public Library Association conference in Denver this spring, and The Last One was one of the hot books people were talking about. I was lucky enough to meet the author and pick up an advance reader copy of her book.

The concept is intriguing – 12 contestants on a reality survival TV show have no idea that a pandemic has broken out. The novel moves back and forth between the early days on the show before the pandemic, as the staff behind the show manipulate how viewers will perceive the 12 contestants, and later days, when the contestants believe they are facing a solo challenge. The later chapters follow one contestant in particular as she stumbles on increasingly distressing scenes that she believes are part of the challenge.

I very much enjoyed reading The Last One. I compare it to the blockbuster Gone Girl in that I wanted to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. It’s not a book I would read a second time, and it will be more enjoyable to read if you don’t know much about the plot. The writing is smooth and the character development good.

I’ve never watched any Survivor episodes and I still enjoyed the book. I think fans of the TV show would like this book even more than I did because of the way the contestants are manipulated and presented to the TV audience.

The plot dragged a bit toward the end and slowed my rush to finish. But the slow period didn’t last very long. This is a debut novel, and to make the story work the author does rely on a couple of plot devices that are hard to believe. I won’t mention one because it would act as a spoiler, but the other involves her eyeglasses. She breaks them early on. Although she breaks into stores to find supplies, she does not look for reading glasses or contacts until late in the book.

But those are minor complaints. I think this would be a great beach or travel read. I often dislike the flat or anticlimactic endings of first novels, but I was quite satisfied by the ending of The Last One¸ and I was happy to see that the author did not feel the need to tack on an epilogue.

I recommend The Last One to anyone looking for an engrossing thriller, especially fans of survivalist fiction. I read an advance reader copy of The Last One; it is scheduled to be published on July 12. It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

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