RebL Books

Book Review: The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Girl with eyes closed, half in light and half in dark, with iconography all around her including cactus flowers, a spaceship, moons, and fauna.Había una vez there was a hard-working Student Library Aide who was tasked with processing books. She did not identify as a reader, and so she could handle large numbers of books without temptation–until The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera caught her eye. Did her supervisor look the other way as this book trailed the student worker through her assigned duties at the front desk, while training new co-workers and as she prepped for her eventual departure upon graduation? Yes, I did. I did because I also read The Last Cuentista and know how transportive the story is.

In this work of dystopian science fiction, Earth has been destroyed and a select group of scientists and their offspring travel to start anew on another planet. In preparation, travelers are put to sleep while being inundated with all the knowledge they will need to do their job once they reach their destination hundreds of years later. However, the goals of the “Collective” change while the passengers sleep.

Twelve-year-old Petra Peña is one of those passengers expected to enter the STEM fields, but carries the gift and calling of her abuelita, a storyteller. Perhaps this, or her genetic eye condition that the Collective doesn’t detect, allows Petra to hold on to her memories of Earth and the way things were “in the olden days.” And perhaps this is what will help save humanity.

The Last Cuentista offers an opportunity to wonder about storytelling, governing, dogma, grief and identity. The book calls out other cuentos, including La Llorona, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Arroro mi niño/a, Fire Snake and Dreamers by Yuyi Morales.

According to the publisher, Higuera has spent her life blending folklore with her own experiences. Her first book, Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, also earned multiple awards. The Last Cuentista already has a Newbery, a Pura Belpré and a ton of other honors, but the book community should just agree right now to give it all the awards. In at least one interview, Huguera expresses hopes for a sequel or companion book to The Last Cuentista. Y se acabo lo que se daba.

ISBN: 9781646140893
Publisher: Chronicle Books
PubDate: October 12, 2021