"The Last Wild" by Piers Torday is a book that young animal lovers will find both touching and horrifying. The setting is a time when all animals have either died from a virus or been killed in humans' attempt to stop the virus from spreading.
Young Kester Jaynes has been locked in a children's prison for the past six years. He's not sure why, but he knows that his father is waiting for him to return. His mother died shortly before he was taken away from his father. And Kester cannot talk.
The others at this almost caricature-like prison taunt him and are cruel to him. One night after Kester imagines he is conversing with the cockroach he feeds, the glass walls of Kester's cell are shattered by birds. They talk to him. And they tell him they need his help.
They take Kester to a place called The Wild, where he meets a stag who tells Kester that he is the Wildness and the animals around are the Wild. They are all that is left of animals anywhere. And they are asking Kester to save them. They know that his father is a great man who could cure the red eye disease. Kester's father is a veterinarian and a man who has been an animal lover of the first magnitude.
So Kester and the stag set out on their journey. And it is a classic hero's journey. They pick up more animals along the way and even a girl and her cat. Kester must be brave -- even when he's scared to death. There's also his mysterious watch that takes pictures and sends him cryptic messages just when he needs them.
Kids will be appalled at the evilness of most of the humans Kester and the stag and Polly (his new friend) meet. They are threatened, and everyone wants to kill the animals. Kids will also be entranced by the magic of it all. The animals -- all of whom can communicate with Kester -- are simultaneously helpful and demanding of Kester. But he is the most demanding of himself.
There is also a sense of urgency in their mission as many of the animals are suffering from red eye disease and don't have much time left before they will die.
At the end, (spoiler alert) Kester does find his father, and his father does create a cure for the animals. But this is not the end of the story, as the company called Factorium, the largest company in the world, finds them. Factorium is the evil corporation which allegedly tried to stop the virus and then created a non-animal, non-vegetable flavored pink slop that is the only nutrition left on the planet. They run the country and don't plan on giving up their control or letting animals repopulate the world.
What will Kester and his father do? Readers will find out when "The Dark Wild" is published here in the States.
The author is British, and being an author seems to have been his destiny from a young age. His mother ran a bookshop, Toad Hall Books, where he got to meet Roald Dahl. A regular visitor to the shop was Iva Ibbotson, who "tried out" her books at the store before sending them to the publisher. Torday has also worked in theater and TV (in Los Angeles).
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Viking Books and Goldberg McDuffie Communications, for review purposes.
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