Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork was one of my favorite reads last year. I loved the story of an autistic young man learning to relate to and live in a complicated world full of fallen people.
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors has the same theme without the autism. As the story begins, Pancho, a seventeen year old orphan, whose only other family member, his sister Rosa, has just died, is headed for the Catholic orphanage St. Anthony’s Home to complete his high school education and his minority. At St. Anthony’s Pancho meets D.Q., a cancer victim and author of The Death Warrior Manifesto. D.Q. talks a lot and writes when he’s not talking. Pancho isn’t much into words; he uses few, reads not at all, and thinks D.Q. is a freak. As the story progresses, the two young men are thrown together in a journey of healing and growth and just living, choosing life in a complicated and death-filled world.
One of the choices D.Q. has to make in the book is whether or not to continue undergo the experimental chemotherapy treatments that his mom desperately wants him to take. The choice is not simple and not really presented as simple. D.Q. wants to live. The chemotherapy makes him sick and unable to think clearly. But it might cure him (probably not). D.Q. wants to live fully for whatever time he has left. It annoyed me a little that he didn’t see the spiritual healer/shaman that his mom also brought into his life in the same terms as the chemotherapy. Yes, Johnny Corazon, the shaman, might cure D.Q. of cancer (very probably not). However, the spiritual confusion and sickness that Corazon’s dubious treatments would also bring into D.Q.’s life were not worth the small possibility that there was something worthwhile and healing in the mix.
Pancho also has choices to make, and although it’s clear from the beginning of the book that Pancho is on the wrong path, it’s not so clear whether or not Pancho will realize his error and choose life instead of death and revenge. Pancho has reason to be angry, but he’s about to ruin his life out of sheer anger and vengeance when he meets D.Q. And nobody can talk Pancho out of his self-destructive course because Pancho isn’t listening to anyone. Pancho is a man of action, not words. He needs healing, too, but doesn’t realize he’s actually sick, sicker than D.Q. who’s dying.
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is a good story, one that I would recommend to anyone, especially guys, confronting death in their own life or in the life of a friend or relative. It’s also a story about revenge and forgiveness, and on that theme Stork hits all the right notes as far as I’m concerned. Death Warriors will give readers a lot to talk about and process, as well as a good story, and what can one ask from a piece of YA fiction?