Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick

This is a compelling read. It’s likely to get the attention of reluctant readers.

The protagonist is a young boy named Spaz (due to his epilepsy) who is surviving in one of the Urbs (suburbs) of Eden. Eden is the place on Earth where grass still grows and beauty still reigns after the Big Shake that destroyed most of the rest of the planet. Eden is populated by the Proovs: genetically improved human beings.

All the non-proovs live in controlled areas where life is cheap and those lucky enough to survive must answer to the current boss.

Spaz must answer his boss’s command to rob an old man living in the stacks. These are boxes stacked up in the destroyed cities. This man is old enough to have some memories of the time before The Shake, and he offers the boy all his valuables except the one that is valuable only to him: the last book in the universe. In a world where you can access a brain probe to go straight into your brain and excite you with the most vivid of images, books are no longer desired commodities.

The boy leaves with the last of the man’s worldly goods. He eventually comes back to steal the book, but instead events lead to his teaming up with the old man to cross forbidden territories to visit his sister who is dying of leukemia. Assisted by a proov, they make it to his sister and take her to Eden for help. Eden is forbidden to any “normals,” but their odyssey opens a window to potentially change that in the future.

The book is dark, and that is in perfect keeping with its apocalyptic theme. There is a sense of menace and there is non-gratuitous violence that is necessary in a world where order is barely kept, resources are scarce, and thugs are in charge. It is bleak but not hopeless.

The book makes an error I find endemic in post-modern times: it addresses the wrong question. While it takes on the ethical issue of treating the normal human beings as sub-worthy compared to the proovs, there never appears a question as to the moral problem of genetically-engineering human beings into a master race.

The above problem could be addressed with parental discussion, but I must give a serious warning about one thing. One of the characters addresses the question to Spaz if he and his sister were luv mates and is that maybe why his adoptive family kicked him out of their home? Spaz points out that while he and his sister are not blood-related, no way were they “luv mates” because he considers her a sister. Considering the horrible damage incest wreaks, why assault the innocent with the notion? This is an adult topic and disturbing young tweens with the idea was not necessary to the story.

SAFETY RATING: 1 Vatican Flag

See Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2293; 2294


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