The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera is a middle grade novel that blends Mexican folklore and science fiction. I just had to read it after learning it won the 2022 Newbery Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in children’s literature.
When Earth is destroyed by a comet, 12-year-old Petra Peña’s family is among those chosen to travel through space and time to help populate a new planet. Something goes wrong while they are in their sleep-states and when Petra wakes up hundreds of years later, she seems to be the only person who remembers Earth. Even more disturbing, the management of the ship and its mission have been taken over by an evil “Collective,” who have purged the memories of those on board, eliminating those unwilling to be brainwashed. Petra, whose close relationship with her abuela (grandmother), Lita, prepared her to be the future world’s cuentista (storyteller), must look deep within herself and her memories in an attempt to save civilization.
I absolutely loved this unusual book that reminded me of The Giver by Lois Lowry. I also loved the way the author weaves Mexican folklore and language throughout the novel, as Petra shares her favorite cuentos (stories) with her newly awakened shipmates. If you like books about the importance of stories, folklore and family, take a magical and memorable journey along with The Last Cuentista.