The Last Days: A Review

The Last Days by Scott WesterfeldMost everyone calls The Last Days (2006) a sequel to Scott Westerfeld’s novel Peeps. I suppose that, loosely, this is true. For my part, I think of this novel as more of a companion to Peeps because the main characters are completely different (don’t worry though, characters from Peeps do turn up), the structure of then novel is different, and because the only way to get the most out of either book is to read the two of them together, back-to-back. So, this is a sequel in the same way that The Two Towers was (trick statement! Tolkien meant the Lord of the Rings trilogy to be one book but it was too long and written before the days of ginormous novels). Suffice it to say, The Last Days is a very different book from its predecessor despite continuing the same story. Most of these differences are structural. Westerfeld again employs first person narration, but this time he has five narrators. Each chapter is labeled with a character’s name and told from his or her point of view. Writing a novel in this way is incredibly difficult because you have to take into account continuity while also making sure you don’t get redundant and trying to make each character sound unique. Westerfeld does all of that. Perfectly.

In this novel, Westerfeld’s narrators are in the interesting position that they know less than the readers (this is why reading Peeps first is so important). The whole vampire thing is an unknown for everyone. As is the issue of a pending apocalypse.

But that doesn’t tell you much about the story.

It all starts with a girl who wants to make a band. Pearl sees the weird things going on in the city. The sanitation crisis. The increasing number of stray cats. Then there are the rats that are slowly taking over the subway system. And Brooklyn. Then there’s Pearl’s friend, Minerva, who’s been acting pretty weird herself. Pearl decides that the best way to help her friend, and maybe get through the craziness, is to start a band.

Soon Pearl finds the perfect band members. And they’re a great band. But strange things happen when Minerva starts to sing. Making everyone wonder if the band’s music is the one thing that can stop the apocalypse. Or start it.

There are very few male writers who can convincingly narrate from a female point of view. Scott Westerfeld is one of the few. Instead of making the novel seem choppy, or the characters under-developed, Westerfeld’s split narration makes every character much more dimensional.

The story is about vampires, of course. And music. But it’s also about friendship and relationships. Westerfeld artfully describes the vicious cycle some friendships have when one friend is always taking whatever the other has to give. He also shows how, sometimes, you have to keep those friends even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

Like Peeps, parts of this book are a little gross. Raw meat does turn up on several plates. Some narrators are more “unique” than others. But taken as a whole it all kind of works to make a really fun, really exciting book.

At its basic level this is a story about a band trying to make it big when everything else is falling apart. Along the path to fame, they just might save the world.

Possible Pairings: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

How I wound up working in libraries

It occurred to me recently that no one I currently speak to actually knows how I wound up going from avid-reader to prospective librarian. (The question of whether or not anyone cares is a different matter.) I decided to use this post to tell the full story.

It all started with a children’s book. Specifically, with Demeter and Persephone: The Seasons of Time by I. M. Richardson: a picture book adaptation of the Greek myth explaining the changing seasons. In 2002 I was participating in the New York City for the second, and last, time. One level of the competition happened to take place in the auditorium of a public library.

After I presented my story and everyone started milling around, the Children’s librarian, Susan, came over to me and my mother. She said that she loved my story. My mom started talking to Susan and by the end of the conversation I had agreed to tell my story again that summer and I had an internship lined up for the following school year. (I had previously volunteered at my school library for community service–note the pattern).

I interned for the 2002-2003 school year. This translated to shelving books and shelving reserves (a lot). For two magical weeks it also meant cutting out paper snowflakes that were used in displays for the Children’s Room and the Young Adult area. When my time at the library was coming to an end, my mom suggested I ask if the library had any openings for summer jobs. They did not (there was a hiring freeze).

My internship ended and I was, surprisingly, very sad to leave. Later that summer, several things fell into place. The hiring freeze was lifted. One of the Pages at the library had to quit because she was going away to college. Susan suggested my name when the library started trying to fill the position and would eventually call me to ask if I was still interested.

I started work in August 2003. I stayed at the library for three and a half years. During that time I worked in the children’s room, reference (briefly), adult non-fiction, and in the young adult section (still a favorite). I made displays, weeded books, and decided I wanted to be a librarian during this time.

In December 2006 I was promoted (part-time clerk) and transferred to a branch in Chinatown. Now I’m back at my original branch and getting ready to apply for library school.

And all of that happened because Susan and I happened to like the same picture book.