A comet destroys Earth, so a select group of families departs in three ships. Petra Peña’s family has been selected because her parents are scientists. Their destination is Sagan, a new planet that is hundreds of years away. People sleep in advanced machines while they receive data about life on Earth, and Monitors watch over them. Petra does not want to become a scientist like her parents but a storyteller like her abuelita. She hopes that her program downloads the Earth’s most celebrated stories. But when Petra wakes up, something has gone wrong. The Monitors are not around, and the Collective has taken over the ship. What is worse, Petra realizes she is the only one who remembers life on Earth.
Written by Donna Barba Higuera, The Last Cuentista is a science-fiction masterpiece for ages ten and up. I have not read a science-fiction middle-grade novel like this one since I read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Yes, at that level, this book is in my perspective.
Petra is a storyteller at heart, like her abuelita, and when she finds herself hundreds of years in the future alone, she uses stories (cuentos) to gather strength and survive. Barba did an outstanding job bringing alive the idea that there is no history without stories, and without history, we do not know who we are. There is a reason for the Collective, the villains in this novel, wanting to eradicate stories. It is why tyrants always go after works of art, books, and historical artifacts and documents. To eliminate memory and brainwash people with an agenda.
The Last Cuentista also warns us of the dangers of total sameness. The Collective is called like that because its goal is absolute equality to prevent humanity’s past errors from happening again. However, in the process, the Collective lost its humanity. It is a lot of food for thought.
I highly recommend The Last Cuentista to all readers from ten and up. It should become a new classic in classrooms and libraries. Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal gave it starred reviews, and it is a Junior Library Guild Selection. It is not a surprise it won the John Newbery Medal and the Pura Belpré Award.