Most 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