Release Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Tundra Books (Random House Canada)
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Finished copy received from publisher
Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.
Tell Me More: Growing up in the 90s ensured that I read quite a few Holocaust-themed novels in elementary school. From Number the Stars to The Diary of Anne Frank, the idea of persecution and hidden faiths has always been present in children’s literature. I find it commendable that so many authors trust that kids can understand those events and learn from them. The Last Song is a brave novel, to be sure, but it doesn’t reach the thematic and emotional summit that it aims for in its take on another traumatic historical event.
The best thing a historical novel can do to succeed is to give readers an anchor. If you’re a reader in 2012, a book about the Tudors can’t just shove names and places and descriptions of clothing at you. There has to be a character to connect with and hold on to as the story progresses. Of course, this principle can and should be applied to all fiction, but it becomes especially important in stories based on real events and real people. Unfortunately, Isabel of The Last Song isn’t given enough time to truly develop into a character that the reader can invest in. Her dialogue is clunky and shallow, her characterization vague and her motivations cloudy. I never felt like she was a real person, so I couldn’t find a reason to be worried about her.
Ultimately, I believe that the problems in The Last Song stem from a lack of length. At 225 pages, it’s a short novel, but the actual size of the book is tiny (5-1/8 x 7-5/8 inches) and it uses double spacing in the text. In the end, it isn’t enough to set up the historical context and provide ample characterization. There isn’t enough time to get to know Isabel and her family well. While I have studied the Inquisition and am familiar with the names and titles used in the book, younger readers that this is aimed toward may not be at that point yet. The pacing is lightning-quick, sending readers onto another scene before the implications of the previous scene can sink in. Simply put, I needed more of everything to really be pleased with the story and its themes.
The Final Say: The Last Song is a good introduction to historical fiction for young kids, but older readers will definitely want more than what it can give them.
Young adult fiction writer Eva Wiseman was born in Hungary and currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Eva possesses a Bachelor of Science degree, a Master of Arts degree, and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Manitoba. She has worked as a journalist for the Winnipeg Free Press and the former Winnipeg Tribune, and has taught English Second Language and GED courses to immigrant women.