Review of The Last Cuentista

The Last Cuentista
by Donna Barba Higuera
Middle School    Levine Querido    336 pp.    g
8/21    978-1-64614-089-3    $17.99

When a solar flare knocks Halley’s Comet off course and sends it hurtling toward Earth, a small group of citizens is selected to leave the planet and colonize a new one to ensure humanity’s survival. Once onboard, the citizens are put in suspended animation for the four-century journey to the new planet, Sagan. When twelve-year-old Petra Peña wakes up, however, she learns that a cult-like group, The Collective, has taken over the ship, “purging” citizens who fail to comply and erasing all memory of Earth and its diverse inhabitants. As an aspiring storyteller and one of the only people who remembers life before The Collective, Petra must rely on her Mexican storytelling heritage to protect the remaining humans from the fate of living life as Collective drones. She follows in her grandmother’s footsteps to become a cuentista, using storytelling to save humanity and remind her companions of the histories that were taken from them. Through The Collective, Higuera chillingly foregrounds seemingly benign attempts to eliminate violence and war via the homogenization of humanity. Through Petra, she effectively showcases how cultural memory, familial bonds, and story are essential to the progression of society, and how cultural difference is indispensable now and in the future.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

S. R. Toliver

S. R. Toliver is an assistant professor of literacy and secondary humanities at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her public and academic scholarship can be found on her website Follow her on Twitter @SR_Toliver.

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