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Last Things

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Last Things Book Poster Image
Dark and light battle over teen guitarist in thrilling tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Intriguing exploration of the old tale of the musician who sells his soul to the devil.

Positive Messages

Aside from fighting the forces of darkness, strong messages of family, friendship, being true to yourself, courage, self-sacrifice, and figuring out what's really important.

Positive Role Models & Representations

With supernatural powers, strong determination, and more than a bit of a crush on Anders, Thea is a formidable protector with a kind heart, and looks out for her crazy, alcoholic aunt who may actually be the main thing keeping the forces of darkness at bay in the town. Anders is a regular small-town kid grappling not just with normal high-school stuff but with the fact that his talent is rapidly taking him to places and situations beyond his control. Some adults are kind and supportive. Others prove to have evil connections.

Violence

Mortal combat between good and evil forces. Creepy dark-side monsters lurk in the woods, capture people and sometimes kill them; sometimes the forces of good get there first and avert the killing. In the past, a character committed suicide to avoid them. Part of sealing the deal with the dark side involves chopping off a body part, such as a finger. A character kidnaps and imprisons another, but it turns out to be to protect her. High school characters get into physical fights. Character refers to stereotype of jocks carrying roofies (pills commonly known as a "date-rape" drug) their pockets.

Sex

A few intense kisses and make-out sessions, important to the relationships and plot developments, with girl's hand under boy' shirt being the raciest detail.

Language

Occasional "f--k," "s--t," "crap," "ass," "asshole,"

Consumerism

Many brand names mentioned, from Nissan cars to Ibanez guitars, but as scene setting/character description rather than marketing. Lots of band names, e.g. Alice in Chains, Metallica, Nirvana, mentioned for comparison and scene setting, as well as on T-shirts.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The leading warrior for the forces of light is Thea's aunt, a hard-drinking, crazy old lady who sees visions, and those who love and support her keep her supplied with liquor. That woman's brother, Thea's father, is a hard-drinking religious fanatic. Teen characters stick with espresso drinks for the most part, but some teen and adult characters drink and get drunk. Disparaging references to stoners.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Last Things (which is also the name of the protagonist's band) is author Jacqueline West's take on the tale of the musician who sells his soul to the devil. In this case, high school senior and budding guitar god Anders Thorson, who may not have set out to do anything of the sort, but finds everything from his playing ability to his small-town fan base spiraling out of control since the night he met with a mysterious journalist who gave him a spectacular new guitar. Now the forces of darkness are coming to collect, and the only thing standing between them and Anders is Thea, the probably crazy niece of the town drunk/secret cosmic protector. There's violence, cosmic and otherwise, as light and dark battle; some characters are killed or maimed. Intense kissing here and there, as well as occasional crude language, in a compelling page-turner where it's often the smiling, familiar evil you've got to watch out for.

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What's the story?

People are starting to flock from far and wide to small-town, backwoods Minnesota, where metal band LAST THINGS -- high school seniors all -- is tearing it up at a local coffeehouse every Friday. Most of the fuss is about lead guitarist Anders Thorson, who's bursting with creative energy from his songwriting to his solos, trying to come to terms with the sudden adulation, and increasingly worried that it all seems to go back to a mysterious guy who'd promised him everything he'd ever wanted and handed him a guitar. Anders isn't the only one who's worried. Some would-be protectors know exactly what sinister forces are in play and are determined not to let them have Anders -- but being a drunk, crazy old lady and her weird teen niece, they may not be up to the task.

Is it any good?

Jacqueline West's vivid, page-turning fantasy features a Minnesota teen guitarist who may have inadvertently sold his soul -- and the unlikely light warriors trying to keep the dark forces at bay. Two narrators -- Anders, the guitarist, and Thea, his oddball classmate who's quite a bit more than she seems -- are complex, relatable, and trying to do the right thing in a world full of invisible powers at play in the everyday world. Along the way, there are many emotional punches, like this one:

"But they aren't my band anymore.

"I still can't wrap my head around this. It's like learning your mom isn't actually your mom, and that she'll never be hugging you or helping you with anything again, and she'd really like it if you moved out of her house ASAP."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the storytelling theme of people who sell their souls to the devil (or some other dark force), as happens in Last Things. Why do you think this theme is so popular? Do you think there's a lesson that applies to everyday life?

  • Do you like heavy metal? Who are your favorite bands and artists?

  • In Last Things, several characters turn out to be quite different -- for good or ill -- from your first impression of them. Has this happened with people you know in real life? Did the person turn out to nicer -- or meaner -- than you expected? 

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