Though not as elegant as Ender’s Game nor as timeless as A Wrinkle in Time, Gregg Hurwitz’s latest science fiction novel, Last Chance, is a solid addition to YA literature. Last Chance tells the story of two brothers, Patrick and Chance Rain, struggling to survive in the face of an alien invasion. Though Hurwitz juggles a few too many themes: aliens, extinction, Lord of the Flies-esque survival, and a love triangle to boot, he manages to deliver a fun and easy read that is sure to please.
Told through the medium of journal entries, the book opens with a flashback introducing us to a young Patrick and Chance on the eve of their parents deaths. Patrick exits childhood quickly in an effort to raise his younger brother. Hurwitz then drops us back into the present, albeit one vastly different from our own. A recent alien invasion by the Harvesters has left the adults of the world Hosts—empty, soulless creatures who function simply as visual transmitters to a (conveniently unexplained) mothership. Here on Earth, a Queen impregnates children with a stinger, who are then forced to birth Hatchlings—a perverted union of human and alien. Patrick and Chance learn through an encounter with a Rebel alien that they are they are the key to human survival, but as is often the case, at a price much dearer than expected.
It seems that plot is Hurwitz’s strong suit as he whisks his readers through multiple scenes with apparent ease—yet the characters do not enjoy any true arc or development throughout the book. The villain is just the villain, the gutsy, precocious child never fails to hatch a last minute ingenious plan, and the selfless, uncomplicated hero goes bravely into the night. The most interesting character, Alex—conflicted girlfriend to Patrick and potential love interest of Chance—is at times both strong and vulnerable, yet we only understand her through the lens of Chance’s journal entries. She enjoys some of the more honest moments in the book including a particular poignant scene of cutting off her hair because, “I hate to sound like a princess, but I just want my friggin’ hair clean. Just once.”
While the science seems suspect at best and a closer theoretical examination would most certainly be appreciated, Hurwitz does a decent job of balancing the convoluted alien plot line with the heart of the book—love. The book’s success lies in the deeply committed and unconditional relationship between the Rain brothers and their devotion to protecting the ever shrinking population of children. The love triangle between Patrick, Chance, and Alex, while expected, does not devolve completely into cliche thanks to Hurwitz’s restraint. Meanwhile, Chance’s protection of two orphans offers some oft needed optimism throughout the book.
Billed as a science fiction novel, Last Chance does not stand up to the giants that came before; Le Guin, Tolkien, and Dick come to mind. While Last Chance lacks a certain sophistication, there was something undeniably entertaining, human, and enjoyable about Hurwitz’s latest novel. Though the science feels more or less like an afterthought, Hurwitz ultimately offers an otherwise fun book about the love of two brothers.
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