Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: THE LAST CUENTISTA by Donna Barba Higuera
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Christy Brennan.
Habia una vez…there was a girl named Petra. THE LAST CUENTISTA by Donna Barba Higuera is not only Petra’s story but an incredible novel that underscores the power of storytelling. By mixing Mexican folklore with science fiction, Higuera has created a completely engaging, post-apocalyptic, scenario. As Petra breaks through false narratives and plants the stories from her abuelita, Higuera highlights the power the stories of our past have on informing our future and how stories can define cultures.
In the novel, we meet Petra. A strong, heroic character who wants to be a storyteller like her abuelita and not necessarily follow the path of her scientist parents. However, Petra’s world is in peril. Earth has been destroyed by a comet. A select group of scientists and their children, including Petra and her family, have been chosen to go to a new planet, and the fate of the human race depends on them. The catch is that it will take over three hundred years to get to the new planet and they’ll be put to sleep the whole time.
Many years later, we come to discover that a group called the Collective has taken over the traveling group of scientists and erased their memories. Everyone seems to have lost any memories of their past except for Petra who somehow wasn’t put to sleep correctly and can hear everything going on around her. Armed with the stories from her abuelita, Petra is determined to guide the group out of darkness, despite the Monitors who would do anything to keep the knowledge Petra has from being shared.
This was such an interesting book. The blend of dystopian science fiction with Mexican folklore was surely unique and engaging. There’s definitely a darkness and sadness at the core of the book but a hopeful ending that certainly seems to leave the option open for a sequel. Overall, a stunning dystopian novel with strong messages of individuality, hope and the power of storytelling.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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