The Life-Saving Power of Storytelling

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THE LAST CUENTISTA
by Donna Barba Higuera

The end of the world is coming. It’s 2061 and a solar flare pushed Halley’s comet on a collision course with Earth. Only a select group of scientists, builders and politicians can escape a planet’s time bomb in luxury spaceships. Largely – and the deep guilt of the survivors – Petra Peña; his brother Javier; and two super-intelligent scientist parents are chosen. They hope to fall into hyper-sleep for the 380-year journey inhabited by multiple generations of caregivers or “Monitors” until they reach their new planet.

If you think that sending a group of traumatized Monitors into space, isolating them and giving them great responsibility and great power over the lives of others could lead to an authoritarian regime, you are right. When Petra awakens nearly 400 years later, she discovers that the Monitors have become the “Collective”, a utopian (dystopian) society that has eliminated all differences and conflicts. They also erased the past, erasing everyone’s memories. Well, almost everyone. Due to a malfunction, Petra remains intact.

by Donna Barba Higuera (first novel, “Lupe Wong Won’t Dance” It was a Pura Belpré honor), certainly moving towards the dark end of middle-class fiction, with brainwashing, “cleansing” (murder, albeit always off-page), and yes, the destruction of our entire planet. But she doesn’t stay in the dark, choosing to give her readers healthy doses of hope, curiosity, and page-turning action.

The premise is exciting. World building is grounded and creative at the same time: a brief reference to the “great epidemic of the 20s” anchors us in time; the gaze of water butterflies and alien chinchillas arouses admiration; Collective’s depictions are specific enough to feel eerily realistic. And like any dystopian novel that deserves its salt, this story has a lot to say about power, peace, and the dangers of a worldview – or dogma, a word that the narrative usefully offers to young readers – aiming to bury the past and obliterate differences.

As engaging as the sci-fi elements are, the best thing about this book is what it has to say about the storytelling. Petra is not just a 12-year-old girl reluctantly thrust into a space cult dystopia; He is also a storyteller. On Earth, Petra’s grandmother (affectionately called Lita for abuelita) told her Mexican folk tales, and Petra longed to one day weave cuentos (stories) as skillfully as herself. But when she wakes up, Petra realizes she must find her cuentista voice sooner than expected.

Because the other children on the ship have been brainwashed, the only way to reach them is through the story. The stories show them a freer and alternative way of life than the Collective suggests. Stories give them the hope they need to be brave. And most importantly, the stories remind them of who they are, who they are. NS.

While weaving clues, Petra faces the challenge many storytellers face: How can she capture their spirit and strength as she adapts the tales she grew up with to tell a new world? Indeed, his life and the lives of his friends depend on the answer.

The brilliance of Higuera’s narrative is that it shows us the power of the story rather than telling it. As Petra shares her stories and guides her shipmates through the dark, readers will see the corners of their own hearts light up. This book is gripping with its twists and turns and moves in its themes – a really nice hint.

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