The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles, 304 pp, RL 4
The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles,
illustrated by Dapo Adeola
Review Copy from Versify
I am primed to love anything from this new imprint headed by Kwame Alexander, verse novel or otherwise. The Last Last-Day-of-Summer is not a verse novel, but it is definitely one of the best works of middle grade fantasy that I have read in a very long time. I am always leery of mash-up comparisons for books, mostly because I used to write them and I understand what liberties are taken when trying to entice readers (and buyers) with one juicy tag line. That said, describing The Last Last-Day-of-Summer as, "The Hardy Boys meets The Phantom Tollbooth," is pretty spot on, while also missing some of the marvelous nuances of the book. And please know that, as one of my favorite books from childhood and adulthood, I take any comparisons to Norton Juster's masterwork quite seriously. What does the mash-up miss? I'll let Jason Reynolds tell you:
The Last Last-Day-of-Summer reminder me that all children deserve to exist in magical spaces where their imaginations and familial bonds will them into heroism. Every single child should have the freedom to be one of the Legendary Alstons. And I, for one, am grateful to Giles, and this brilliant story, for that reminder.
So here's the deal - the really great and fantastic deal - the main characters are black, as are most of the characters in the book. In a work of fantasy. Do you know how uncommon that is? When black (or any people of color) characters make of the majority, the book is usually historical fiction. When there are black (or people of color) characters in a work of fantasy, even if they are the main characters, there is usually a white character sidekick/nemesis. The Last Last-Day-of-Summer is a standout for this and, happily, a standout for being, as Reynolds says, BRILLIANT! And, even better, while cousins Otto (Octavius) and Sheed (Rasheed) are the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County, the Epic Ellison Girls, Air Jordan-wearing Victoria "Wiki" Ellison with her photographic memory and keen skills of deduction and her twin sister, tool belt-wearing, dangerous machine inventing Evangeline "Leen" Ellison are possibly even better at rescuing their county from the continual strange occurrences that regularly threaten their otherwise idyllic existence. There HAVE to be more books about the adventures of the Legendary Alston Boys in the future, and I look forward to seeing more action from and collaboration with the Epic Ellison Girls!
Giles's book is marvelous because he layers subtle life lessons into his action packed adventure. Logan County, Virginia is known for strange happenings, and, with his careful observations and note taking (including a numbered list of lifesaving maneuvers), and his cousin's derring-do and quick thinking, Otto hopes to spend the last day of summer one-upping the Epic Ellison with an adventure that will garner them a third key to the city, evening up the odds.
The day ahead of them won't earn them a key to the city, but it will leave Otto with something more important to strive for. As Sheed and Otto gaze out over the town of Fry, weighing their options (gravity holes? frog storms? bottomless pit?) their day is decided for them when a man approaches, asking if he can take their picture with a wonky-looking old camera, and introducing himself as Mr. Flux. They boys agree, and as Mr. Flux snaps the shot, a stranger comes hurtling through space. He is, "brown, like the boys," and he wore, "dark goggles cinched tight through a mane of coiled dreadlocks that whipped about as he got his bearings." His name is TimeStar and he has come from the future to help the boys. It turns out Mr. Flux and his camera have frozen time in the town of Fry!
With time frozen, the legions of Clock Watchers, headed by Father Time, have nothing to do and have lost their sense of purpose. The boys meet many of them - Crunch Time, Game Time, Stitch in Time, the Minute Men, the Clock Watchers - and my favorites, above, the Golden Hours, AM and PM, a well dressed, magnificently lit couple responsible for that magical hour of the day when the light is perfect. Together, the work to unravel the origins of Mr. Flux and figure out why he want to stop time, while also fleeing from Time Sucks - wooly-mammoth sized platypuses on a tear. The cousins and TimeStar trace Mr. Flux back to former bully and current middle school janitor Donald O'Doyle and the bright, but severely lacking in confidence boy he tormented, Peter Thunkle. It turns out that Mr. Flux, the spitting image of O'Doyle as he appeared in a high school production of a play about Abraham Lincoln, was born at the very moment that O'Doyle humiliated Petey in front of cast and crew, referring to the prestigious program for budding scientists he was accepted into with an unsavory acronym.
In that moment, Petey let himself believe the words of his tormentor, letting his words stop him from pursuing his dream. In one of a few poignant moments in the book, a characters says of the words of the tormentor, "That's on him. When we believe him and let his idiotic words stop of from chasing our dreams, that's on us. There will always be Donnys, people who want to tell us no, and can't, and shouldn't." The other moments from the story that moved me, well, I can't talk about them here. They are part of the marvelous gift of this book for you to discover on your own!