I had the pleasure of reading Alexandra Oliva’s debut novel about a woman who joins a survivoresque reality show for some adventure, and finds herself fighting to survive for realsies. In this show 12 people are left to survive in the woods and face challenges that have been set up before them. The producers have given all the contestants nicknames that boil each person down to their profession or stereotype. There’s Biologist, Black Doctor, Tracker, Rancher, Asian Chick, and so on. The book is from the POV of Zoo, a young woman looking for one last adventure before settling down and starting a family. What the contestants don’t know is that while they are traipsing around the woods, a real tragedy has struck the world. As the weeks progress Zoo finds herself coming across increasing evidence that maybe the devastation she’s been stumbling upon isn’t all a setup for the show.
While the premise itself isn’t anything groundbreaking, I found this book to be a fascinating look into media, the internet, and reality TV. In some of the chapters we witness what takes place in the editing room as the producers and editor tailor the show and it’s characters to what they want the world to see. These chapters also often end with the comments section of a Reddit like forum discussing the show. The rest of the time we travel along with Zoo as she tries to survive in the wild. As things around her get crazier and crazier she stretches further and further to convince herself that it’s all a part of the show. At times it becomes frustrating, almost unbelievable that she hasn’t figured out that what’s happening is real. But you come to realize that people often would rather live in denial than face the truth.
I saw a lot of myself in Zoo, as I’m sure many readers will. I also drew a lot of parallels with her marriage and my own. As she Lord-of-the-rings it through the wild she reflects on the life, and husband, she left behind. She feels real, as does many of the other characters. Even the typical useless-but-hot girl, Waitress, has enough time to show some depth and nuance. While the show has broken them all down into one-dimensional cartoons of humans, they still come across as people.
This book is already showing up on lists of great beach reads, but I think it’s much more than that. I think beach books don’t usually make you think too hard about the world in which you live. While The Last One doesn’t say anything we don’t already know about reality shows and the media, it still weaves it into the narrative in a way that opens your eyes to it without hitting you over the head. I read the book in one sitting so it’s definitely a quick read. And I’ll admit, there was a point that I ugly cried. Like UGLY. CRIED. HARD. But I’m so glad I read it. It’s one that will be sticking with me for a while.
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.