The Last Wild



Brave kids, animals team up in funny, scary, sweet sci-fi.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Both kids' parents have instilled in them a strong desire to learn, which serves the kids and and the animals well as the story unfolds. Along the way, readers will pick up bits of scientific knowledge, from the healing properties of plants to the ways in which various living beings depend on one another -- and how that delicate balance might be disrupted.


Positive messages

Respect for all living beings; courage, resourcefulness, overcoming obstacles, and using your intelligence and knowledge to help yourself and others. Also: the unlikeliest characters and their skills are just the right thing to save the day.

Positive role models

With the exception of the kids' absent parents, adult human characters are evil, scary and grotesque. Both Kester and Polly are exemplary, brave, and resourceful -- as well as believably scared and confused. Kester struggles to live up to his responsibility as the leader and best hope of the animals who've entrusted their lives to him; Polly uses her knowledge of plants and their healing powers to help humans and animals. Both kids love and respect their absent parents and do their best to follow their teachings. The noble stag who recruits Kester is hands-down the most virtuous and impressive character, showing courage, self-sacrifice, and determination to do what it takes to save the others. Many other animals also show exemplary qualities, from the wolf cub who's willing to change his thinking and follow Kester to the indomitable General, a cockroach with military skills.


There's not much gore, but violence, weapons, and death are everywhere. Before the story starts, government agents have massacred all the animals and are hell-bent on killing the few who've managed to survive. The kids and animals are constantly dodging the grotesquely sinister "cullers," who ultimately kill some characters and threaten many others. Parents die, other parents are kidnapped. As the story opens, Kester's imprisoned in a reform school for kids whose parents don't want them. One scene finds Kester, knife in hand, torn about whether he can kill the villain. A mob of humans who have captured the kids and animals tries to force Kester to kill the stag. In another scene, the stag is in mortal combat with a wolf to protect Kester.  A recurring, thought-provoking theme involves the fact that various  "protectors" of the animals are just predators who want to ensure a steady food supply.


While on their journey with the animals, 12-year-old Kester and Polly sleep next to each other and sometimes hold hands, but it's more companionable than romantic.


A villain who's trying to hold onto the struggling stag says "Hold still, you wretched beast, damn you!"

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Last Wild, by British first-time author Piers Torday, is a thoroughly original, compelling mix of familiar ingredients: dystopian futures, prison-like boarding schools, hero's journeys, technologically enhanced villains, and lovable animals. While the publisher says it's OK for 8-year-olds, it may be too much for some of them: All the parents of the 12-year-old protagonists are absent, one dead, two imprisoned, and one simply disappeared. One of the 12-year-olds has been thrown into a "school" that's really a prison, and doesn't know why. There's also nightmare fodder galore in grotesque scenes of weapon-wielding mobs and roving, human/machine hybrid animal-killers, and any kid who ever loved an animal will find the institutionalized campaign to exterminate them horrific. The human and animal characters facing these perils are complex, good-hearted, brave, and often hysterically funny. Their adventures keep the pages turning and leave readers with plenty to think about, including the impending sequel. 

What's the story?

When he was 6, Kester Jaynes' mom died, and he lost the ability to speak. Then he was packed off to Spectrum Hall, home to problem and unwanted children, where he's bullied and mistreated. Meanwhile in the outside world, a strange plague has wiped out many of the world's animals -- and government agents have been killing every animal they can find. In the wake of the massacre, the world's ecosystems have collapsed, and everything's in the control of the company that manufactures horrible food substitutes. Against this backdrop, Kester, now 12, is helped to escape by THE LAST WILD, a group of animals who've escaped their would-be killers, and who believe only Kester can save them -- from the plague and the murderous humans.

Is it any good?


You may have seen thesse elements before -- but not like this. First-time author Piers Torday is the son of Paul Torday, whose first novel -- at 60 -- was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. There's a certain family resemblance, most notably in the irrepressibly oddball sensibility that gathers wildly disparate elements that shouldn't work together at all, including a hefty dose of venerable tropes -- dystopian futures, prison-like boarding schools, hero's journeys, technologically enhanced villains, and lovable animals -- and deftly blends them into a fresh, irresistible new story. Alternately sweet, terrifying, and hysterically funny, the story presents distinctive, appealing characters, human and otherwise, facing a fast-paced onslaught of deadly perils.

While the book's publisher says it's fine for 8-year-olds, some kids -- especially tenderhearted animal lovers and those prone to nightmares -- might find it too intense: Parents die, there's a monstrous character whose crutches turn into guns and other weapons, and animals, including cute, beloved ones, meet violent deaths. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why stories of dystopian futures are so popular -- and so scary. Do they have any common elements with the world we live in, and its issues?

  • Kester lost the ability to talk when his mom died. Do you know anybody who was traumatized like this by the death of a loved one? How did they eventually cope?

  • Do you like the way this story mixes up scary, sweet, cute and funny parts, or do you prefer stories that are just one thing?

Book details

Author:Piers Torday
Illustrator:Thomas Flintham
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Cats, dogs, and mice, Friendship, Great boy role models, Great girl role models, Wild animals
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:March 18, 2014
Number of pages:336
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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