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The Last One

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Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it human-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.

295 pages, Hardcover

First published July 12, 2016

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About the author

Alexandra Oliva

4 books420 followers
Alexandra Oliva grew up in a small town deep in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. A first-generation college graduate, she has a BA from Yale University and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School University. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, son, and their brindled pup, Codex.

Though she is not active on Goodreads, Alexandra can be reached via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,756 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
July 12, 2016
2 1/2 stars. Here’s the problem: this is a good book, but I just didn’t really like it that much.

Comparisons between The Last One and Station Eleven are spot on, in my opinion. So if you liked the latter, there's a good chance this book will suit your tastes more. It's another dense, wordy, literary post-apocalyptic novel. It's clever, and yet I found it emotionally distant.

Oliva presents us with a great premise - a reality TV show turned nightmare. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods with zero knowledge of what to expect. The show is about survival and is meant to test their limits, this they know, but no one knows just how far the producers are willing to go. So when corpses and devastation show up, it's kind of assumed that this is just a twisted, staged part of the game.

Yeah, it isn't.

Unbeknownst to the contestants, a pandemic has broken out and shit has gotten really bad. Communications have broken down and there's nobody out there to pull them from the game. So this survival "game" turns into something very real.

Interspersed with Reddit-like forums, The Last One is a book about the media, reality TV culture and the way our obsession with both impacts us in the modern - and post modern - worlds. It's a fantastic idea.

I also can't argue that Oliva spends a lot of time on her characters, especially Zoo. They get description and development and oh so many words, but as with Station Eleven, I was never convinced that the main character(s) were worth reading about. I appreciated the book in a kind of abstract way, but never engaged with it or cared where it was leading.

For the most part, it's a very slow and dry survival story. It alternates between the present where Zoo is experiencing a dying world and doesn't know it, and the start of the competition where the contestants are referred to by nicknames like "Banker" and "Cheerleader Boy". This way of treating the contestants as things and not people was interesting, but also didn't help me warm to them.

With only a few rare exceptions, I’m just not the type of person to enjoy a story without caring for the characters. I don't have to like them, but I have to be interested. Oh, the world ended! But what does it really matter if there’s no one in this world I find interesting?

A smart book, with a lot of thought obviously gone into it. Probably more interesting to study than it is enjoyable to read.

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Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
June 26, 2018
congratulations! semifinalist in goodreads' best science fiction category 2016!

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"It's all just part of the game. As long as I keep that in mind, I'll be fine, no matter how twisted things get.

famous last words, man…

this book was so, so fun, and i had such a great time reading it, but the fact that some people i usually agree with did not means i gotta write one of those probably-only-interesting-to-me reviews to work out what i loved about it without giving too much away because spoiler police.

the premise is shivery-good: twelve individuals are selected to be contestants on the premiere season of a survival-themed reality series shrouded in secrecy, with a feature-film-sized budget, and a near-simultaneous film-to-broadcast time, three episodes a week. many of the specifics and details are withheld from the contestants, including the true name of the show itself. they know only that it will require woodsy survival skills, strategy, endurance, and, it soon becomes clear, there will be an element of theatricality.

three weeks into filming, with episodes already airing, and while the remaining contestants are scattered apart from each other into individual challenges, there is a global pandemic and while the world doesn't end, shit is really, really bad, communications are compromised, and one of the contestants, nicknamed 'zoo,' is on her own, off-course and unreachable and making her way through an increasingly ruined wasteland she believes to be part of the show; encountering corpses she assumes are props, following what she perceives to be clues, but in reality, she's just witnessing what the world looks like when it dies.

believing she is still being monitored by hidden cameras and drones, zoo doesn't comprehend the gravity of her situation - she assumes she still has a safety net - an "out" if she needs one; that the crew won't let her die or get into any real danger, despite the very real and very dangerous situations in which she keeps finding herself. not that she's planning on taking advantage of that safety net:

Nothing can be worse than what they've already put me through. I'd never choose this, not again. But I'm here and I'm a woman of my word and I promised myself I wouldn't quit.

it's a fascinating situation, psychologically, considering the tricksy mindgames reality television plays even when there's not an apocalypse going on, where viewers are complicit in their own manipulation for entertainment - required to accept a semblance of reality with the tacit understanding that the 'reality' is largely fabricated, as one character observes before all the real bad begins:

Though he will not admit as much, the cameraman's presence gave him the courage to head off into the woods alone. It's only pretend alone, he thinks.

and as zoo herself acknowledges (unfortunately and unknowingly after the real bad begins):

The world in which I now move is a deliberate human perversion of nature's beauty. I cannot forget this. I must accept this. I have accepted this.

it's a premise so rich with opportunities for psychological exploration and social commentary, and oliva does an excellent job taking advantage of these opportunities. the narrative switches back and forth in time between the show before the event; setting up characters and challenges and motivations, and to zoo on her own, afterwards, in the changed world, maintaining her persona, adapting her behavior for the viewer who is no longer there, trusting her life to a set of rules no longer in place.

that is some scary shit, man.

quick personal fact that may or may not be interesting or relevant - i have never watched survivor or any of those shows i have seen commercials for where people are tossed naked into the woods or made to eat unusual things or dropped from high buildings for cash prizes. so, how well this book reflects or references those shows is lost on me. but even though i've never personally witnessed this kind of situation on the teevee, i understand the psychological strain inherent in this arrangement - how the presence of the camera and the unseen audience affects behavior, constructs personas as armor, and how the editing of raw footage influences and manipulates people into caricatures of themselves. within the book, characters are referenced by nicknames, reduced to roles based on their professions or skills: "banker," "asian chick" (who later gets upgraded to "carpenter chick"), "cheerleader boy," etc., which annoyed some readers, but i kind of liked it (since with the reality game shows i do watch, like project runway and top chef, this is exactly what i do - when there's too many of them to keep track of at first and you gotta differentiate them by their salient characteristics - affected or not). here, it drives the point home that these people (theeeeese peeeeeople) have been reduced to stereotypes, pigeonholed into roles to fulfill an audience's expectations and whatever doesn't fit into this role is edited away as though it never happened. the contestant's real names are occasionally used when they form bonds, or in the outside world as fans of the show/friends of the contestants gather in a chat room to dish, and it's a little confusing, but it's also kind of a fun game, being exposed to the personalities of these contestants in their "day lives" and contrasting them with their "show lives."

it's a very strong debut. there are a couple of weak parts and a bit of a three-quarter mark slump, but it held my interest and there are some terrifically intense scenes that will stick with me.

the quibbles are minor, and not uncommon - authorial choices made to maximize dramatic impact that come across as improbable (including my own personal bugbear involving communication, aka "if this one character says this one wicked important thing they don't really have reason not to say and which is only not being said in order to prolong a dramatic situation" syndrome) although to be fair, i think it is handled better here than is typical. there are some extenuating circumstances. but still - just say that thing, son!

there are some additional plausibility issues, where you're desperate for zoo's penny to drop and see what's really going on around her, particularly in the blue cabin, but it's also perfectly reasonable that she simply wouldn't be able to process the truth of what she's seeing considering the completely dissociative state brought on by the strain of hunger and dehydration and , and the general psychological toll of being alone in the wilderness for an extended period of time, exhausted from maintaining a persona that's an amplification of who she really is for an audience that is no longer watching, "trained" by previous legitimate challenges that seemed over-the-top even in the earlier stages of the game:

"I think from this point on we need to assume this is for real," says Black Doctor. At Tracker's incredulously lifted brow he adds, "Just in case."

her rationalization of truly horrifying situations is justified, considering her experiences, but it doesn't mean you don't want to smack some sense into her and say "open your eyes woman! you are not safe here!"

but minor complaints only, outweighed by what was clearly some solid research into wilderness survival, nature and animal facts, the allure of watching reality shows, even when you know better:

…I have to admit, if I weren't here, if I weren't a contestant, I'd watch this show. I'd soak in their vision of mangled familiarity, and I'd love it.

and the mechanics of creating these shows, where even minor scenes like this were fascinating to me:

She's searching the base for a hole. It takes her eight seconds to find. All eight seconds will be shown, and viewers will feel like she's failing, like she's taking forever, because they're used to scenes like this being shortened. From Zoo and Tracker's perspective she finds the metal box very quickly.

so, yeah, i really enjoyed this book, even though i can understand why others would not.

but i wouldn't be me if i didn't bitch about the blurb readalikes a little. i've never read The Passage, so i can't speak to that one, but the comparison to Station Eleven is sacrificing accuracy for name-recognition. my takeaway from Station Eleven was along the lines of "what remains to define humanity when everything is gone? what do we choose to hold onto/what can we hold onto/what endures??" and it's a wide-angled story encompassing the entire human experience through several small individual lenses.

this … ain't that. this might be the exact opposite of that, where the loss of humanity is experienced through one individual's flawed perspective; where her determination to 'survive' isn't necessarily heroic or a tribute to our indomitable species, but down to her sheer stubbornness to win a game. the focus isn't one of breadth - it is tied up completely in issues more immediate and contemporary; media studies and psychology and ptsd and how we relate to those around us and what we have been trained to show or conceal, and it is way more concerned with individual experiences, where the concept of 'humanity' exists only as an abstract, a faceless and unseen observer; a powerless god.

this doesn't make one 'better' than the other, i just think it's important to make accurate comparisons for the sake of the reader who may be expecting a completely different message or focus. but yeah, if you want to be reductive about it - in both books, a plague ends the world as we know it. so i guess this book is also just like The Stand and The Decameron. <--- cranky readers' advisory snark for which i apologize.

to be fair, the first chapter of this book does have some structural similarities to the beginning of Station Eleven, but that's not enough for readalike status.

this book may be a bit more commercial than Station Eleven and it is a debut, with some room for technical improvements, but oh lordy, did i love it. i suspect this one will split readers into love/hate camps, but i am on the side of love.

even just for this fairly inconsequential anecdote, because it is also MY dream to have a chipmunk scamper on me and now i know i am not alone:

I've never been fond of squirrels; I prefer chipmunks with their racing stripes. When I was six or seven I spent an entire summer prone among the maples and birches behind my parents' house, hoping a chipmunk would mistake me for a log. I wanted so badly to know the feel of his little feet on my skin. That never happened, but once one did scamper close, until we were eye-to-eye. And then he sneezed in my face and disappeared. Like a magic trick, I told my husband on our first date. Poof. A story I've told so many times I no longer know if it's true.

okay, i think i've worked through what i liked about this book.

tl;dr - chipmunks.

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Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,244 followers
June 27, 2016
3.5 stars

Alexandra Oliva’s debut novel deserves all the hype it’s been getting. The premise alone had me hooked. A story where contestants are on a Survivor-esque reality show cut off from society when something of catastrophic proportions affects the rest of the world causing even blurrier lines between what is real and what is reality tv.

Sound interesting, original, or exciting? It fits all of these descriptions. And even leaves room for social commentary on reality TV much in the same way that the TV show Unreal does with the behind the scenes look at one of the biggest parts of current pop culture. We get glimpses of the way editing can change the way a contestant is portrayed, the way an event plays out, or it can leave out the moments producers had to push someone to do something. We see how producers create a character and give that character a storyline off what the cameras shoot and piece together what fits. There’s often an end game. What these producers can’t plan for is just what occurs when the world is seemingly ending and they can’t reach all the contestants still out there.

The show our contestants are on is In the Dark. Basically the winner gets a million dollars. It’s about survival and is a new show with a ginormous budget. It’s to air three episodes a week. A lot of details are kept under-wraps from the contestants, but they are told there could be times they are on their own for long periods of time. They say they are always watching..even from afar. So as you can see..even when everything gets real bad, it’s still pretty logical to not piece everything together.

The story alternates between present day from the perspective of Zoo and about three weeks earlier from the reality show perspective (meaning what the production team is piecing together from the footage). The contestants all have clever nicknames such as Zoo, Banker, Tracker, Waitress, Black Doctor, Exorcist, etc. Well maybe not so clever, but that is how the characters were referred to throughout. In Zoo’s chapters she would refer to people by their actual names leading to confusion in who was who for a while. I put some of it together, though I still probably couldn’t match up all the names to their nickname. Some of the chapters also feature a blog post about the show with comments from viewers allowing for additional viewpoints on the whole situation.

I love how Zoo’s chapters became a sort of psychological examination with all the trauma she was experiencing both mentally and physically and her strong belief in knowing she was on a reality show leading her to refuse to believe what she was seeing and experiencing. The way the line between reality tv and real life was so fuzzy, it was even unclear to the reader at times. There is a lot to be appreciated about this one. I think it had it’s slow moments, and confusing ones, but it more than made up for that. One thing is clear.. Alexandra Oliva has talent. I am very excited to see what she writes next!
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,574 reviews5,912 followers
March 29, 2016
I usually overlook some things in an arc copy of a book that bugs me but I'm really hoping that this one gets cleaned up just a bit because it's a full five star book if it does.

A reality TV show that will test the contestants more than ever before. They have to sign a disclaimer that basically the producers don't owe them nothing and that last one in the game wins.
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Twelve contestants enter and the only way out is to say Ad tenebras dedi (To the night I surrender)
Now for me, the beginning of this book is sort of confusing. The contestants are described by race and that kinda made my teeth go on edge. After the "game" starts they all develop slang nicknames.
You have Tracker: a survival expert
Waitress: the standard hot girl who was just recruited for the game for her looks
Rancher: pretty much his name describes him
Air Force: military guy who omits the fact that he isn't the pilot the show thought him to be, he was delivering care packages
Black Doctor: a calm radiologist
Zoo: a married animal lover who is on this quest before she and her husband attempt to have their first child
Cheerleader Boy: in college and was really just looking for a way to spend the summer and hopefully pick up the prize money
Biology: teaches seventh grade science
Engineer: wants to learn spontaneity
Banker: feels like he is the guy that everyone wants their kid to grow up to be but secretly hates because of his job
Construction girl/Asian girl: Shows that she knows how to do more than anyone expects
and Exorcist: nutjob who thinks he can perform exorcisms.

I'm hoping that the finished version has a short little bio of each character so that the reader can make sense of the story sooner than it happened for me.
Because this was some good stuff.

You do have some gruesome stuff with having to feed themselves in the wilderness.
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And some tension between the contestants.
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The explanation most viewers will jump to is as common an assumption as maternal instinct: female jealousy. Waitress is younger, skinnier, and prettier, after all. But Zoo doesn't care that Waitress is pretty, or skinny, or young. All she cares about is that she's delaying their team. She would be equally annoyed at a man doing the same.

Once the game starts you realize that in the outside world something is going on. People are getting sick and dying. The contestants have no clue and after facing a few team challenges they are told that they are now on their own for a solo challenge.

It's told from a retro look back at the 'game' and real time with one contestant (Zoo) as she faces the challenge of being own her own and thinking that nothing is wrong and all the stuff she runs into is part of the game..with all it's props. She does know not to trust anyone named the "Governor" *cackles*
One of the problems does arise here for me also, Zoo uses the contestants real names. They aren't mentioned in explanation of which character is which and I never did figure out some of them. It still kept me turning pages as fast as my fingers would go though.
To gain viewers, because I have to admit, if I weren't here, if I weren't a contestant, I'd watch this show. I'd soak in their vision of mangled familiarity, and I'd love it.

All in all..it's a dang good book. It gives you a glimpse of how the media can distort the public's empathy also. For a debut book, this sucker is so worth reading.

Booksource: Netgalley in exchange for review

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The only one of my friends that have tried this book is TL..she didn't like it and she picks out some good books. There may be a chance that I totally read this one wrong. I've done that before.

Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,440 reviews78.1k followers
July 16, 2017
“Well, that escalated quickly…” seems to be the theme of this book. I had a blast reading this one; it was disturbing in an “in your face” type of manner with no concern for the reader’s feelings (just as I like it). I will say that I agree with most of the other reviews before mine; if this had been cleaned up just a bit, it would have been a 5 star read for me, no questions asked. This wasn’t your typical YA dystopian novel; there are relationships but in reality no romance is portrayed. The content is more adult than your typical teen story which made this a highly anticipated read for me. The Last One felt like the love child of Survivor and The Walking Dead (minus the zombies).

“No one knows for sure what happened, small scale or large. No one knows precisely what went wrong. But before he dies, the producer will know this much: Something went wrong.”

After mulling this one over a bit, I think my favorite thing about this book is the way it is written. Each chapter flips back and forth between the beginning of filming the reality show and present time. The latter is narrated by a cast member named Zoo; the former reads almost as though you are privy to a production script and schedule. It has a really nice flow to it; the style kept me on my toes and had my interest piqued through the entire story; I truly did not want to put this one down. The pacing was immaculate and the author revealed just enough at a time to make me want to read “just one more chapter”.

It took me awhile to get the characters straight, as there are a good number of them, and they go by their TV nickname and their given name alternately. It was fun trying to pair up those names along the way as its not clear right off the bat who is who. Even though there’s not much of a mystery here as to the who and what, the idea I felt behind this story was the why. We don’t get many answers until halfway through the book, but at that point things start ramping up rather fast and we find out most of the clues to the puzzle from then on. I don’t want to delve into further plot details because (duh) spoilers, but trust me, you won’t regret picking this one up if you’re looking for an intense, severely entertaining survival story. I could have read this in one sitting if life and adulting weren’t a thing.

*Many thanks to Alexandra Oliva, Ballantine Books, and NetGalley for providing my copy in exchange for an honest review. I’ll definitely be looking out for the author’s next book. Write quickly please!
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.2k followers
October 26, 2018
ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, I want to give all the props in the world to Alexandra Oliva, because this is one of the best debut author novels I've ever read. I was so impressed by her fresh take on a survivor/pandemic story in this heavily saturated market.

“That's how they do it; they blur the line between reality and nightmare. They give me bad dreams, and then they make them come true.”

The Last One is about a TV survival reality show that is airing right before a global pandemic happens. The contestants are unaware, still thinking they are participating in the show in hopes of winning the one million dollar prize.

The cast is made up of 12 people, with different color bandanas, that are reduced to mere stereotypes:
1.) Zoo, sky blue bandana - female, main protagonist, loves animals, white, blonde, glasses.
2.) Tracker, red bandana - male, survival expert, has a sick mother.
3.) Waitress, violet bandana - female, very good looking, viewed as dumb.
4.) Rancher, black & yellow bandana - cowboy.
5.) Air Force, navy blue bandana - male, military pilot.
6.) Black Doctor, mustard yellow bandana - male, radiologist, calm.
7.) Cheerleader Boy, pink bandana - college student, viewed as weak.
8.) Biology, orange bandana - lesbian, 7th grade science teacher.
9.) Engineer, maroon & brown bandana - male, young, Chinese-American, wants to learn.
10.) Asian Girl, neon yellow bandana - very skilled in carpentry.
11.) Exorcist, lime green bandana - male, red hair, performs exorcisms, viewed as crazy.
12.) Banker, black & white bandana - male, filler, Jewish, super nice.

You do, eventually, find out their names in a very tricky way that is lightly laced throughout the book. This ended up being one of my favorite parts of the story, and every time I would come across a name I would get giddy and have to write it in my notes so I could figure out all twelve upon completion . You, also, find out the fate of all twelve contestants, and I really appreciated not having any loose ends. I also believe the author could make at least one spin-off novel if she so desired.

The start of the story was a little slow, yet overwhelming, to me. It was mostly overwhelming because you are thrown so many stereotypes and descriptions. I can't even imagine reading this book without notes. It felt slow because this story has alternating chapters where one will be pre-apocalypse and the following will be post-apocalypse. I really wanted to just binge read all the post-apocalypse things, so when the pre-apocalypse chapters would come they would feel really slow and somewhat drag. Once you get into the middle ground where the chapters and time start to merge, and once you meet Brennan, it becomes an easy and enjoyable book to read!

Brennan completely made this story for me. His struggle, his pain, his loss, all resonated greatly with me. Seeing him grow, learn, be able to still love and take care of others without losing hope was something of magic.

“Because his future is more important than my past.”

Watching Zoo break down, physically and mentally, was very emotional for me to read. Watching her break just broke me. She was a wonderful main protagonist, and her struggles provoked so much sympathy from me. I can't, and never want to, imagine the pain she felt and everything she had to endure. All of her different revelations made this book one of the most heartbreaking reads I've read. Yet, despite it all, this book definitely left me with a greater feeling of hope.

The rest of the cast that are stereotyped to the world will really open reader's eyes. We are so quick to judge, so quick to cast assumptions. This book heavily weighs in on this and how sad it, and the media, really is. If anything, this book is just worth reading for that eye-opening experience that I think a lot of people in this world need.

I have not read Station Eleven, but I do see many of my friends comparing this book to it. So I'm feeling like if that was your cup of tea, this will also be. Regardless, this was a wonderful book that I'm still in disbelief over. I would completely recommend getting this upon release, and this story will stick with me for some time to come.

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Profile Image for Hannah.
592 reviews1,053 followers
February 10, 2017
This was rough and definitely the biggest disappointment of my reading year. I was really looking forward to this book - I love the premise and was excited by the comparisons to Station Eleven, a book I loved immensely, but man did this ever fall flat for me.

The story is told from two perspectives, before and after. The unnamed protagonist was a contestant in a reality tv show when a plague hit and is left alone but thinking that this is still all part of the show. I have watched an awful lot of reality tv and the parts about the show were really enjoyable; I like how the author plays with the tropes of the genre and how real that felt. My problem was with the second story-line; following the protagonist who just does not realize that the show has ended and that the plague really really really is real. The reader knows this from the beginning and my patience with her wore thin a long time before she caught up. While there was some sort of explanation given for her idiocy (...sorry) that still didn't work for me at all. We spend so much time in her head that at around the 30% mark I just wanted to shake her - and that wish never left me. Everytime she sees something that should give away that the show has indeed ended, she just thinks "wow, they really are spending an awful lot of money on special effects, but they cannot fool me!!!!" I only finished the book because I wanted to know what happens to the child she finds on the way - a child she treats so horribly (because she thinks he's a camera man meant to stir up drama for the rating) that I lost all remaining sympathy I had for the character. Her self-loathing tendencies only led to me nodding and agreeing - and I am fairly sure that was not the reaction that was supposed to come.

I think part of the reason is that I listened to the book on audio, so it took me a lot longer than if I had read it. Also, it really drives home the fact that the protagonist is so much in her head - there is a scene in the middle where she contemplates what to cook, in excrutiating detail, and then thinking back on memories the spices bring and her relationship with her husband, and and and - while the hungry child is looking at her. And I am fairly sure that wasn't meant to feel like forever.

So, yes I am disappointed, because I LOVE the premise and parts were really interesting. I wish the story had been told broader and the other contestants would have been fleshed out more because there is real potential for a story I would love.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,421 followers
June 3, 2020
First Read: June 2016, Rating: 5/5 stars
Second Read: March 2020, Rating: 5/5 stars

This book sounded pretty much like it was created with my personal tastes in mind: a thriller following the characters on a reality TV survival show as they traverse through not only the wooded area used as their natural set, but the altered real world, leaving doubt to blossom in both the minds of the characters and reader as to what is real and what is unreal...

This book delivered on every front! I was hooked from the first chapter and the alternative present and past focus left me puzzling out every word for the clues of truth that may be embedded there.

Each contestant was given a name decided from their profession or some defining particular in their character or ethnicity. These individuals each managed to perform their character to the stereotypical T, and it didn't detract from the reality of the story. This wasn't bad character creation but a satirical and humerus gibe at the formulated, over processed and out-dated production of popular culture that keeps the individual neatly defined in a series of boxes. They all managed, however, to be dually stereotypical and real.

The protagonist, Zoo, was feisty, upbeat and combative but with very real flaws that made her a likable and forgivable main character. I immediately felt an affinity towards her, which aligned with the desired emotion provided from her show casting and immediate odds as 'fan favourite'. She was an apt pick as the book's main character. The other characters often ranged in scale from likable to unlikable due to Zoo's own personal preference, which we are privy to, rather than the reader's other perspective as distanced 'viewer' of the show.

This book is innovative, unique in conception and reads unlike any story I have read before. I have read of some readers finding the plot quite alienating, with its almost clinical and formulated writing when relaying the events of the show to the reader as 'viewer', but I found this another trope which heightened my accord with the book. This definitely falls into the realms of experimental writing, which justifies the polarizing opinions regarding it. For me, it was instant love, and I am eager to read more in this world and from this author.
Profile Image for Sheila.
953 reviews85 followers
August 4, 2016
5 stars--it was amazing... even if none of my Goodreads friends agree! This book verges on horror, and if descriptions of death and gore bother you (animals, adults, children... everyone, really), I'd give this a pass.

I'm trying to figure out what made this book work so well for me. When I finished it last night (at 2 a.m.), I had shivers and tears in my eyes. I think it's because, despite the book's darkness (and it IS dark), there are moments of light and compassion and hope, which I found moving. I think the comparisons to Station Eleven are right on (and I loved that book too!).

I found Zoo's voice engaging, and found her willful disbelief in her situation to be relatable. I loved the contrast between the TV show and its shallowness (the dehumanizing nicknames, the vapid message-board posts) with what's really happening. The descriptions of wilderness survival were believable (a problem I had with another book, The Trees).

But what I loved most of all were the characters, especially Brennan. I'm not usually maternal but I want to scoop him up, make him dinner, and tell him everything will be okay. I'm tearing up AGAIN thinking about him and his relationship with Zoo.

Oliva is obviously very smart, and she writes well and does meticulous research. I'll definitely read her next book.

I received this review copy from the publisher on NetGalley. Thanks for the opportunity to read and review; I appreciate it!
Profile Image for Will M..
304 reviews615 followers
May 28, 2016
I haven’t had a great read from Netgalley in months. I’m glad that I saw this on the most requested section and decided to give it a try. One of the best decisions I’ve made this 2016.

If you’re planning on reading this novel then you should avoid spoilers at all cost. I read the short summary provided by the author on Goodreads and immediately read the novel. It’s only 304 pages, and I was really happy about this fact. Unfortunately, after reading the whole novel, I’m actually asking for more. I normally avoid lengthy novels because I’m a busy with college, but you’ll understand why I’m asking for more. This novel is amazing.

When I got to around 50%, I was already projecting my rating for the novel. I always do this when I read, and I normally project ratings in random parts of the novel. In this case, I was ready to give this novel 2-3 stars at most, 50% in. The reason is that I didn’t see anything special about it. The plot is engaging, but it lacked the wow factor. Fortunately the last 1/3 of the novel completely made up for the lack of wow-factor I was looking for.

The characters are proficiently written, and I really liked the main character early on in the novel. The supporting characters are diverse and fun to read about.

The novel consists of alternating chapters between early on the event, and the latter part. I’m not going to spoil anything, because it would surely ruin the whole novel. Even a hint of spoilers would mess this novel up for you. You need to read this with as little information as possible.

I liked how everything progressed. It didn’t seem like it was going to wrap up nicely, but the author managed to do it. At one point you’re probably assuming that this is going to happen, or this is not going to happen, but the author throws in a completely different situation and you’ll be knocked off your seat. The twists and turns in the novel

The ending is both great and confusing at the same time. The ending is very crucial when it comes to my final rating of any novel. I don’t care if the novel is 5-star material 99% in. If the ending ruins the whole thing, a 5-star rating can go down to a 1-star rating. It’s great that the ending of this novel helped give it a boost from 3.5 to 4 stars. I’m still hoping for a sequel or a side story to be honest, but that might ruin the first book. You’ll understand everything if you’ve read this amazing novel.

4/5 stars. Clearly not a perfect novel, but it’s really entertaining and worth your time. It’s relatively short but it’s going to make you ask for more, even though there’s never going to be another book because it’s a standalone novel.

Thank you Netgalley for giving me an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,975 followers
February 9, 2017
It took me a little bit to get into this novel despite the rather streamlined and quick pacing and uncomplicated plot, but that was mainly due to the whole Reality Tv setup.

I got over that pretty quick because I got into the characters and especially Zoo's shifting viewpoint forward and backward through the timeline and the easy telegraph of the utter tragedy that was to befall everyone taking part in this media extravaganza. And further, of course. :)

Well as soon as I got established? Well, hell, this was a blast and a half. I really enjoyed seeing an end-of-the-world novel do a sophisticated treatment on the issue of perception of reality.

Isn't that a big thing in Reality Tv, too? People turn life into a game and it distorts everything they know. Mix it with something truly horrific and watch the mind work as it tries to sort or refuses to sort through the horrors, even denying reality for the sake of pure survival.

I can't blame Zoo. Not at all. I rooted for her even as I had to interpret all she saw and get horrified even more FOR her.

This has got to be one of the most complicated uncomplicated dystopian novels I've read in a very long time, having a razor-sharp focus on perception and coping mechanisms.

It may also be about the idiocy of modern media, a condemnation, but that part took a back seat for me. :)

This was a really fun tale. :)
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
May 31, 2016
I was torn between 3.5 and 4 stars, so I'll round up.

Alexandra Oliva's The Last One is really thought-provoking. A look at the making of and the people involved with a Survivor -type television show, crossed with a bit of Cormac McCarthy's The Road , this wasn't quite what expected, and it moved me more than I thought it would.

In the Dark is going to be the next big thing in television. A wilderness survival show with an enormous budget, the producers are ready to pull out all of the stops—and the truth is, no one knows just how far the show will go, or how it will end. They assembled a cast that the viewers will both love and love to hate—there are those who seem like real threats to win the competition, those who seem like appealing people the audience will root for, and those who will make good television. (Sounds like every reality show out there, doesn't it?)

We get glimpses of the characters, labeled by the nicknames those involved with the show use to refer to them—Tracker, Carpenter Chick, Air Force, Black Doctor, Waitress, Exorcist, Engineer, Banker, Rancher, Asian Chick, and Cheerleader Boy. But it is Zoo, a researcher at a wildlife refuge near her home, whose eyes we see the show, and the entire book through.

As the episodes of the show unfold, it doesn't seem too surprising if you've ever watched Survivor . But the behind-the-scenes stuff is coupled with a more real survival tale—the contestants are sent out on an individual challenge, and during that something catastrophic happens. Zoo keeps moving forward in her pursuit of her next clues, going where she believes the show wants her to, and starts encountering props and situations more disturbing than what they've had to face thus far. Yet even as she grows physically and emotionally weaker, she keeps on, desperate to make it home to her husband and, if possible, to win.

"If I allow myself to doubt, I'll be lost. I can't doubt. I don't. It all makes sense."

This book was a very interesting juxtaposition between the entertainment world and the much bleaker "real" world that Zoo faces. Having watched Survivor in its first few seasons, as well as a few other reality shows here and there, I didn't find that part of the plot as interesting as Zoo's own journey was. And while I felt it took a little too long for Zoo to realize what had happened, and what was around her, that part of the plot was compelling and tremendously moving, as a person so mentally and physically exhausted, fighting her own psychological demons even before joining the show, has to accept a new, well, reality vastly different than anything she was expecting.

Oliva is really talented, and she really balanced the more lighthearted and sensational elements of the plot with the weightier ones. I thought Zoo was a pretty fascinating character, but I almost wish we had gotten to know a few of her fellow competitors a little bit more, although I understand the point of the book. Beyond the items I mentioned above, my only other criticism is that, while the book refers to the show's characters by their nicknames, Zoo refers to them throughout the book by their first names, which we were never privy to, so it was difficult to keep straight in some cases whom she was thinking about. (I'm hoping that might be caught in the last round of edits before publication.)

This is a thought-provoking, well-written, and emotionally satisfying book. It may not necessarily surprise, but it definitely will make you think, and perhaps look at your favorite reality shows a little differently.

NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group — Ballantine provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Jan.
424 reviews252 followers
September 17, 2016
4.5 stars

I did not want this book to end!!

Imagine the reality TV show Survivor, but ramped up about 10 notches. Zoo is one of 12 contestants chosen to play the new series called 'In The Dark'. Set in a remote location, these contestants are given team challenges in the beginning, then they are on their own for individual contests. Isolated, they have no idea that something is happening around the world, something viral. How long will it take for them to figure it out, if ever? Would you be able to recognize the signs that something isn't right, or would you be too lost in the reality of the TV show to understand? Or is the reality TV version of life better than having to face the truth?

Told from Zoo's present point of view to glimpses of the past and what lead to the present day, this is a story not just about survival, but about the line between what actually is reality versus the raw truth.

This story packs quite a punch, and for a debut novel this author has certainly grabbed my attention. Solid story line which kept me turning the pages, unique and unforgettable characters, and a really strong ending that had me fist pumping my approval! (seriously, I really did that)

Why not 5 stars?
My one and only issue was the confusion generated by who was who at times. The contestants were given nicknames by the production team and the public. The actual contestants didn't know this, so they addressed each other by their first names. But majority of the book referred to them by their nickname, so when a real name was used it threw me off trying to identify who it was. It didn't happen often, but a better tie in would have been helpful.

That was the only bump in this otherwise fun, creative and imaginative roller coaster ride.
I can't wait to see what Ms. Oliva comes up with next!!

My thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Justine.
1,134 reviews309 followers
April 2, 2021
The Last One delivers a twist on the post-apocalyptic genre, combining it with a clever critique of modern reality television.

Twelve contestants are selected to participate in a new survival based reality show, but in the midst of filming, a devastating plague decimates the population.

We follow the show and get to know the contestants in the early days of production. These chapters alternate with ones narrated in the first person by a contestant nicknamed Zoo, which take place after the plague has occurred. While it is obvious to the reader in these chapters that something has gone terribly wrong with the world, Zoo continues on as if what is happening around her is just another part of the survival game she signed up for, and she is determined not to let anything break her.

Comparisons with Station Eleven are probably apt, in that this is a literary character based book with a post-apocalyptic setting, although I thought this one didn’t have quite as much substance as Station Eleven. That being said, there is still a lot to like here. The writing for the most part is excellent and the characters are spot on. The final few chapters in particular are outstanding, and the book as a whole impressed me even more considering that this is Oliva's debut novel.

I'm not sure if someone who has never watched any reality television would really enjoy this book, because there is a certain element of cultural critique that naturally arises here that one might not otherwise appreciate. But for those who have, I think Oliva manages to take what we have all seen before and turn it into something new.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,848 reviews519 followers
December 4, 2020
What would happen if the world went to hell while you were isolated on a stupid reality survival show called In the Dark (not subtle)? That is the premise of this book, and I started out disliking it, but by the end I thought it deserved 3.5 stars which I've rounded up to 4. First, I confess that I'm probably not the intended audience for this book, since I would neither appear on nor watch such a show.

The chapters alternate between descriptions of the 12 contestants and their group dynamics and the solo challenges faced by the female contestant referred to as Zoo. The contestants are given shorthand names based on their jobs or personas, like Waitress, Banker, Tracker and Black Doctor. I wasn't pleased that each of the contestants was described by his or her color. You might justify that as a way of showing how the producers stereotyped the contestants, however the author also characterized the members of the crew by their color, so I believe it was stereotyping on the part of the author rather than merely that of the producers of the show.

The beginning of the book was very confusing and it was hard to figure out what was going on and who the characters were. I didn't figure out who the narrator was until about 20% into the book. Later in the book the author began to use the real names of the contestants as well as their show names, after I had already gotten used to their show names, so it became confusing all over again. The beginning was also very dull, unless you want to read pages of someone figuring out how to start a fire. Later we get to several, detailed stomach turning episodes describing the skinning, gutting and other mutilation of various animals for the entertainment of the masses (and I do include the readers of this book in the people intended to be entertained).

It was somewhat interesting seeing how the impressions of the contestants were manipulated by the editing of the producers, but it's not like that is a secret. The author was also pretty manipulative by giving touching back stories (and reasons for appearing on the show) to some of the contestants. She didn't tell us which ones were just fame whores, but my vote would be all 12 of them.

The book eventually became suspenseful. The writing was good, I wanted to find out how things turned out, and I'd be willing to read something else by this author.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Ron.
388 reviews89 followers
April 14, 2017
Sam enters a reality show. Let’s call it a surviving in the wilderness competition. Winner gets a million dollars. The way I describe it is only indicative to a part of this story. The taping of the show is already underway, and within five pages the story is been turned on its head. What I did know, or believed, is that a catastrophe of sorts has occurred; Sam (nicknamed Zoo for the show) is now alone; there may not be a survivor left in the country, let alone in the game that had begun only days before. Or is this only a part of an elaborate show that goes well beyond the realm of the typical script? I didn’t think so, but this is what Zoo believes which made for an interesting, and at times frustrating, experience for me as a reader. It’s not until much later in the book that I understood, at least partly, why Zoo could not see what lies before her eyes.

In present tense, as Zoo navigates a trail she believes will lead her towards home, and to her husband, the book flashes back to the first days of the reality show. It’s in these flashbacks that we get to know the other 11 contestants and the challenges they must endure until only one remains. Although these flashbacks were semi-interesting (some characters are totally bonkers), I really only wanted to read about Zoo and the world after the pandemic. Using a reality show as a kick-off to what occurred does set a very unique stage for this drama, but still – the best parts of this book are the traverse towards home. A home that may no longer be.

Funny to be saying this again, but the ending was the best part for me. A few of my recent 3-star reads have been this way. They’ve finished well. “The Last One” has probably had the most satisfying ending compared to the others. It wasn’t a surprise ending, but the way it was written was fresh and it made me feel good.
Profile Image for Meredith (Slowly Catching Up).
793 reviews12.4k followers
June 25, 2016
Really strong and intense read that left me feeling hopeful.

The Last One is about a group of reality show contestants: Tracker, Zoo, Engineer, Biology,Exorcist, Waitress, Air Force, Black Doctor, Carpenter Girl, and Banker who are being filmed for a Survivor-like reality show;one of the main differences being that rather than be voted off, each contest must opt to quit and the show ends when one person is left standing. The narrative alternates between Zoo's perspective of the solo competition in the present and a third person POV about the competition in the past.

While the competition takes place, a world wide epidemic occurs, wiping out a good part of the population. Zoo, who joined the show for reasons that become apparent as the narrative unfolds, is wandering on her own through the wilderness. While she sees abandoned houses and dead people, she convinces herself that all are props and challenges related to the show. She eventually must come to terms with reality and face what she has been running away from.

I really enjoyed reading The Last One. I found it to be a little slow and confusing in the beginning, but it eventually picked up and I am glad I stuck with it!

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,430 reviews994 followers
April 3, 2016
Admittedly The Last One was not for me.

Very little to do with the quality of the writing, that was good, excellent in places. But the story lacked cohesion for me and I did not really relate to any of the characters. Plus the authors prediliction for the use of real names in parts and nicknames in others did cause me some head scratching occasionally and dumped me out of the story.

The premise is excellent and for the most part executed well. A survival reality tv show, the contestants challenged, both in groups and individually. Meanwhile in the other world that they are cut off from, something is happening. Or is it? I think if the author had played more with the possibilities - that "Zoo" (yes that one is a nickname) may genuinely be on her own in a dying world or indeed it may still be part of the show, this might have been more bang on for me. But it was a little wishy washy.

What I DID like, parts of Zoo's journey, her thoughts and feelings, didn't create enough emotion underneath to really grab me - again the disconnect from the character - but in fairness that is very subjective and others will see it differently.

So ultimately well written but I failed to engage. The ending was actually the best part but by then I had really lost interest.

So we are back to the start. This one was not really for me.

Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
April 5, 2016
Copy furnished by Net Galley for reviewing purposes.

This story is a delicious amalgam of Survivor and Twilight Zone (most particularly Time Enough At Last), with a hearty helping of a Captain Tripps-ish (say thank ya, Uncle Stevie) bug trotted out for good measure.

As the contestants in a reality Survivor-type TV show are busy honing their survival skills in the deep woods, they are blissfully unaware that an epidemic is sweeping through the nation at a prodigious rate. What begins as a reality TV program segues into real life.

Great story and clean writing with believable dialog. Other reviewers have mentioned the confusion surrounding the nicknames of the contestants versus the given names the main character uses to refer to them, and I wholeheartedly concur. This should be addressed, and no doubt will be in the published edition.
Profile Image for Christina.
262 reviews225 followers
July 25, 2016
It's a toss up, but I'm leaning closer to 4 stars for this.

There were contingency plans in place, but not for this. It's a spiral like that child's toy: a pen on paper, guided by plastic. A pattern, then something slips and -- madness. Incompetency and panic collide. Good intentions give way to self-preservation. No one knows for sure what happened, small scale or large. No one knows precisely what went wrong. But before he dies, the producer will know this much: Something went wrong.

I was so excited to get my hands on this book. The premise is 12 contestants on a reality TV show. They are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test their endurance...they are told that it's about survival. But the show creators and producers have another plan up their sleeves and things begin to have a darker undercurrent to them. Each contestant is told a safety phrase 'Ad tenebras dedi', and saying it is the only way that they can opt out of the show and go home. Then, while they are out there, a disaster of global proportions happens and the 12 contestants, completely cut off from society, know nothing of it. When it does become known to them, they all react very differently. This is the story of one of the contestants, Zoo.

A sense of extreme unimportance overwhelms me. This show isn't about me. It's not about the other contestants. It's about the world we've entered. We're bit players, our purpose one of entertainment, not enlightenment. I've been thinking about this whole experience the wrong way -- I'm not here because I'm interesting or because I'm scared of having kids, I'm simply an accent on their creation. No one cares if I make it to the end. All they care about is that the viewers watch to the end.

Zoo thinks that the catastrophe is fake, all aspects of it planted by the producers of the show for the sake of good entertainment. She is traveling east on foot, towards her home, thinking that a clue has led her to the route she is on. The story is told in alternating view points. One being what's happening with Zoo, present day, on her travels and you get a firsthand account of what she's experiencing, and the way her mind has started to twist everything to work it as a part of the show... but no matter what, she refuses to utter the safety phrase, she refuses to quit. The alternating chapters are told mainly from Zoo's perspective, but some from the other contestants and other people associated with the show as well, about 3 weeks or so previously. You see the beginning of the show and you slowly learn the direction it was going in.

I cup my face in my hands, block out the world, a world that keeps insisting on its own existence.

I've never read anything quite like this before, though Station Eleven shares some similar elements. I don't want to go into too much detail either and give away the plot. Had some of the details been more ironed out for me, I think this would've been a 5 star read...there were just certain scenes and details throughout the book that, to me, were a bit hard to envision and some that I thought seemed unrealistic.

The hardest part for me though had to be the chapters centering around Zoo and her present day travel. You don't know at the beginning of the book what, exactly, happens to the world...but you're given enough clues to figure it out fairly early on. And being in Zoo's mind and realizing how warped her perception had become, was honestly a bit heartbreaking. She is so convinced that the show is still filming, so she has the mentality that the show won't let anything too bad happen to her...they won't throw anything at her that she can't handle. And it takes something very intense to finally snap her out of it and really open her eyes to the devastation that has happened around her in such a short amount of time.

This is a book that I will be thinking about for some time to come, I'm betting. 'Thought provoking' doesn't even begin to cover it.

Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,032 reviews2,604 followers
January 8, 2018
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/08/15/...

The Last One is a post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller about the world in shambles. There’s also a big-budget nationally televised survival reality show, with almost no lead time between filming and airing, starring twelve competitors. Only one of them can win.

Some elements of this story may sound familiar to the avid sci-fi and fantasy reader, but debut Alexandra Oliva offers a fresh twist on the end-of-the-world scenario which immediately drew me to her novel. Imagine being a contestant on a Survivor-type reality show, in a remote part of the country with no communication with the rest of the world when a very real disaster strikes. As a devastating outbreak wipes out a large chunk of the planet in just a matter of days, you’re still currently trekking through the woods by yourself on a Solo Challenge, unaware that all your friends and family back home are probably dead. Instead, your full attention is fixated on trying to survive and outlast your fellow contestants, because that’s the only way you’ll win the one million dollars. Even now, you think, hidden cameras are probably everywhere capturing your every move. And the wily show producers have already proven they would do anything for ratings, using cheap tricks and props in an attempt to throw the competitors off their game. You can’t trust anything you see, anything you hear—not when anything can be a hidden challenge or scripted part of the show.

All this is going through Zoo’s mind as she stumbles out of the woods upon car wrecks, abandoned stores, and empty towns. As she tries to make sense of the horror and ruin she sees, the lines between reality and reality TV are blurred beyond recognition. For all she knows, the game is still on.

Zoo is not her real name, of course. She and the other eleven contestants are given nicknames by the show creators and viewers, all based on their professions and stereotypes. For example, our protagonist was designated “Zoo” because of her love of animals and her teaching job at a nature and science center. Her main competition is a man dubbed “Tracker”, a survival expert whose work gives him a clear advantage on this show. The rest of the cast include “Engineer”, “Carpenter Chick”, “Waitress”, “Air Force”, “Black Doctor”, “Rancher”, “Cheerleader Boy”, “Biology”, “Exorcist”, and “Banker”. No real names are given in the chapters that serve as an overview of the show, describing the production process with an almost cold, detached attitude. These sections follow the contestants on their team challenges, but also include behind-the-scenes looks at how the episodes are filmed and put together. We come to realize that all the contestants have their own reasons for being on the show, but the editors try to twist and frame each situation so that they become less like real people and more like “characters”—fabricated personalities to fit the narrative they want shown on television.

But in between these chapters, we also get a more up-close-and-personal perspective. These sections are narrated by Zoo, bringing the only part of this reality TV show that feels REAL. True names are used, humanizing the cast once again. We can finally make the connections and discover who everyone is, such as, Tracker is actually Cooper, who wants to win the money to pay for healthcare for his sick mother, or that Waitress is actually Heather, a recruited actress who secretly hopes this stint will be her big break.

Zoo’s own reasons for applying to be on the show in the first place are more complicated. There’s always more to the truth, which we discover as we follow her on her struggles through the wilderness. There’s definitely an element of the unreliable narrator here as well, as we recall Zoo’s memories and live through her fears, and all the while her resolve (and sanity) continues to break down. As such, Zoo’s willful denial of the true reality was probably my biggest issue with the story. I could appreciate what Oliva was trying to accomplish with this, but I also must have lost count of the number of times I wanted to shout “STOP BEING SO STUPID!” at the pages of this book. Zoo’s tunnel vision was overplayed to the extent that it damaged my esteem for her character, and ultimately kept this from being a perfect novel.

Still, there’s no denying that its premise is unbelievably clever and well thought out. I’m no fan of reality TV myself, but I’ve seen my fair share of them in the early 2000s spending summers with my cousin who was a real Survivor, Big Brother, and Amazing Race junkie. For The Last One, Oliva nails the “Reality TV” angle right down to the tiny little nuances, making it all seem so scarily convincing, capturing that kind of atmosphere so perfectly that it’s uncanny. This juxtaposition between carefully crafted illusion and true reality is also a theme present throughout the novel, as Zoo tries to come to terms with what she sees in the real world. I was so wracked with suspense over what might happen to her once she figures out the truth, several times I almost caved to the temptation of flipping to the last page just to see how it all ends (but I am glad I didn’t).

All told, I can’t tell you how impressed I am that this is Oliva’s debut effort. She’s taken an incredibly unique idea and executed it in a very ingenious and ambitious way—and I think that boldness paid off in spades. I would definitely recommend The Last One to readers looking for a thought-provoking and eye-opening novel, especially if you like the idea of a very different kind of apocalyptic dystopian story.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,029 reviews58.9k followers
August 22, 2016
The Last One by Alexandra Olivia is a 2016 Ballantine publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really don’t remember requesting this book from Netgalley, but apparently I did. I don’t know what made me think this was a book I wanted to read, because one of the main threads is based on reality television, something I really don’t like or enjoy, and the other thread puts the book firmly into a popular genre, or theme, I don’t care for all that much and will be happy to see the back of, hopefully sooner, rather than later.

I have no idea what I was thinking when I requested it, but I have noticed many of my Goodreads friends are reading this one, so I bumped it up a few slots on the old TBR pile to see what all the fuss was about.

To be honest, I thought the story could be a scathing parody, even satirical, because I found myself simultaneously rolling my eyes at the contestants or laughing at how the author portrayed them, which is exactly the way they appear of these silly shows. But, as the story progresses, it becomes quite apparent something far more sinister has occurred and our girl, ‘Zoo’, is not aware of it, continuing on with her quest to win a million dollars.

If I could hand out an ‘A’ for effort, then this book would deserve one because of its originality, creativity, imagination, and experimentation. On one hand it works as an interesting character study, but in other ways it’s too vague, rushed, and the characters are not developed enough to evoke an emotional connection to them. While the set-up is simple or basic, it’s still, perhaps, a wee bit too ambitious, needing something I can’t quite put my finger on.

Despite the sub-genre and themes that I am not overly fond of, I’m still glad I gave the book a try. If nothing else, it was a change of pace for me, and gave my brain a different type of workout for a change.

Overall, this one gets 3 stars

Profile Image for Tink Magoo is bad at reviews.
1,248 reviews194 followers
February 14, 2017
This is now available to buy, make haste human and purchase this here book!

Also, I may have sent a begging email to the author after I read this because I wanted more answers about the ending, she kindly replied with patience - I've added it to the bottom of my rant review.


How do I rate this? The 5 I can give it and everyone else's leftover stars if they rated this less than the full 5. It gets all the stars.

This review is going to be nothing but me gushing and squealing like a little piggy about how bloody fantastic this book is. I may not make a whole lot of sense but I don't care cause I'm so excited right now and maybe just a little over-caffeinated.

Also please note that I may be slightly more forgiving with certain aspects of this book because survival and dystopian books (or tv shows) are one of my favourite genres. They're my kryptonite. Anyway ...

This is told from past (were we learn about the game show, the contestants, the challenges) to the present (were Zoo is trying to survive on her own). Each chapter alternates between this third and first person narrative. I had no problems switching between the two, it wasn't confusing and I liked that we got to go back and see how Zoo got were she is now.

*There is one chapter that was a little heavy on information. About tracking and butchering. It has all the details you would need to do it yourself. Personally, I liked that. It set the atmosphere and helped me connect to the characters and the story. It also means that I could probably fumble my way through the process if I ever find myself taking part in a game show when the world ends. Or just if it ends and I have to live like Big Foot. Same thing. Anyway, my point was that I didn't think it was too much. The rest of the challenges weren't as detailed.

*I've read in a few reviews that there's confusion around names. During the show sections, contestants are referred to by their nicknames while in Zoo's present POV she uses their real names. Now for me it wasn't hard to work out who was who, but I can see how it could be an annoyance and it's definitely an aspect that could be clearer; maybe a small bio on each person like somebody else suggested.

*When Zoo found that camping goods store I about peed my pants. If the world was ending (zombies/emp/natural disaster/aliens) at the top of my list (and anyone with half a brains) would be an outdoor supplies store. You won't be able to rely on water or electricity, its most likely you'll need to leave the built up areas because of all the dead people or the buildings collapsing; so you'll need everything they would stock. It would be like finding the holy grail or having an orgasm.

*At points I was so frustrated with how Zoo treated Brennan and just her general state of denial. I wanted to shake some sense into her. Stupid woman, wake up and LOOK. Argh!

*A lot of this type of book are heavy on violence, this one is NOT. There aren't enough people left to cause any problems, there wasn't enough warning for there to be mass panic and looting; for me it was believable for this storyline.

Some may consider what I've written next as minor spoilers, but it's mostly just my thoughts on where the story was going and what DIDN'T happen, not what does. You've been warned just in case.

I was so worried there for a while that I would get to the end and an over enthusiastic game show host would pop up and announce it was all a setup. Boy I would have lost my shit if that had happened. That would have been a cop-out. Luckily for everyone, that's not what happened and I'm a happy prancing bunny hopping through a field of daisies in the afternoon sunshine with all my fluffy bunny friends.

At 93% - I was so close to springing a leak in my eye. So close. It was just all so sad, my heart broke for Zoo, but then there was hope. It pushed me down and helped me back up. It was left in a suspended state of hopefulness, but I'm kinda conflicted as to whether I'm happy with that. I would have liked a firm conclusion. I like things to be left with certainty, I don't just want to assume, I want to know. I want to read whether or not that happened and not just make my own mind up.

If you like books were the world ends this is one of the best I've read so far. The game show aspect helps to create a sense of confusion and has you racing to see exactly what is going on. To say I'm impressed and that I loved this is an understatement.

Congratulations Alexandra Oliva, for a debut novel this was amazing.

*This is the reply the author sent me about my questions*
Profile Image for Blair.
1,770 reviews4,247 followers
May 19, 2017
Dystopian novels that aren't strictly SFF – that splice their post-apocalyptic setting with some other genre or style – are becoming A Thing, a trend maybe not as pervasive as The Post-Gone Girl Thriller, but a trend all the same. It's hard for me not to attribute this at least partly to Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, though my impression of that book's significance is likely magnified by my love for it. Station Eleven is my dystopian benchmark, and it looks like the publishers of The Last One might agree, since they mention it in the blurb.

The Last One is a billed as a thriller, and it has the bright idea of placing into its imperilled setting a group of reality TV contestants who, of course, don't necessarily know what's going on in the outside world while they're filming. There are dual narratives, recounted in alternate chapters and probably best summed up as Before and After. Before is about the show, In the Dark, itself, and follows the progression of its storyline from the first day of filming onwards. After is about one of the contestants, a woman dubbed Zoo (because she works at a wildlife sanctuary; they're all given nicknames like this, mostly occupation-based – Engineer, Biology, Waitress and so on). She is living and hunting alone, believing herself to still be competing in the show as part of a lengthy solo survival task, while the reader is given heavy hints that the ravaged, post-apocalyptic landscape she's traversing is the result of a real pandemic, and the crew, other contestants, and indeed the viewers are most likely long gone.

Reality TV makes an exciting subject for fiction because an omniscient perspective allows us to see it from all sides: the contestants' actual experiences; how they are interpreted and analysed, controlled and edited by the producers; how the end product is consumed by viewers and the media. The topic has been tackled to wonderful effect in a couple of pieces of short fiction I've read – Rebecca Makkai's 'The November Story', from her collection Music for Wartime, and Jonathan Coe's 'The Comeback', a segment of Number 11 – and it's one of the strongest elements of The Last One. The construction of the show is fascinating; the disconnect between screen and behind-the-scenes also gives the book its compelling opening chapter.

Probably the biggest problem I had with The Last One was Zoo herself. She's meant to be charismatic and likeable enough that she's pegged as a 'fan favourite' by the show's producers, but none of this comes across in her depiction from any perspective – she's almost cartoonishly self-obsessed, myopic (in more ways than one (her actual short-sightedness is made into a linchpin of the plot)) and singularly dull. Her supposed reason for competing doesn't gel with the idea that she would keep going as long as she does; her arc is as unbelievable as she is unsympathetic. I longed for another character's viewpoint – or just something, anything, good or bad, to make Zoo interesting. The worldbuilding, too, is shallow; the fact that this is lampshaded (Zoo comments that Brennan's ramblings resemble 'every post-apocalypse plot, ever') doesn't make it any better.

What The Last One has going for it is that it's very gripping. The fact that I finished it at all, despite not much liking the plot or main character, attests to that. I'm sorry I didn't enjoy it more – I guess I kept hoping the ending would have something that would lift my opinion of everything else.

I received an advance review copy of The Last One from the publisher through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Dianne.
6,766 reviews589 followers
August 2, 2016
Reality TV, admit it, we have all watched at least one. We have also sat in judgment of players after only seeing what the moneymakers want us to see. And. We. Fall. For. It., even as we say we are too smart to be manipulated. What happens when survival on a Reality TV show and reality itself become all too similar and how would we understand the difference after the physical and mental trauma of facing staged life and death situations daily for weeks?

Twelve contestants are chosen to test their mental and physical endurance. How well they will face challenges as an individual and as part of a team, knowing there will be only one winner? Through bite-sized looks at each contestant, we are given a look at the behind the scenes story of one such show. One woman will stand out and she may be the only one who knows the truth of what has happened in the world they all left behind to play a game. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva is a stark look at the human condition as we see it through the eyes of showmanship and of a reality that may or may not be real.

Alexandra Oliva’s tale is raw, brutal at times as tempers flare, insecurities and egos clash in a game of survival created for the masses to follow, comment on and feel superior to the players while armchair quarterbacking. We are invited to discover what happens, what is said and what ends up on the cutting room floor. We are also asked to determine if the apocalypse has come for more than these contestants as the world continues without them? Is it possible that money will scream so loudly and we have become so immune to our own humanity that while the world falls apart, the show must go on? One woman will test the limits of herself, the game and the world beyond. For those of us who do NOT like reality shows, The Last One gives a shining example of what is wrong with them as they encourage distrust and anger while stripping humanity down to its ugly scars.

I received an ARC edition from Ballantine Books in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher: Ballantine Books (July 12, 2016)
Publication Date: July 12, 2016
ISBN: 1101965088
Print Length: 306 pages
Available from: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
For Reviews & More: http://tometender.blogspot.com

Profile Image for Aditi.
920 reviews1,333 followers
August 18, 2016
“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

----Yann Martel

Alexandra Oliva, an American author, pens her debut science-fiction dystopian book, The Last One that unfolds the story of a woman taking part in a deadly real-life survival game where twelve contestants without any prior knowledge needs to survive through a dense, dark forest filled with deathly challenges, but little did they knew or the woman knew that this game show is going to get very real, so real that apocalypse can even happen.

Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it human-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.

A reality survival game TV show, with a prize money of worth $1 million, where twelve contestants need to fight it out with either the challenges sprung up like mushrooms here and there by the producers of the show (think The Hunger Games) on their way or with the fellow contestants. The contestants are sent into the woods without any basic training or idea about what to expect or what kind of dangers they are going to face, and soon they start facing some pretty hardcore challenges, among the contestants, Zoo, as coined and labeled by the game producers and so the rest of the contestants by some label name instead of the actual names, is the one who leads the show, but eventually she faces some scary challenges like real-life corpses and devastation, but little did she or the rest of the contestants had any idea that whatever they are facing is not a challenge any more, in fact it is real and the world has ended with no one to rescue them from the devastation. What happens next is for you to find out?

Another dystopian novel that reflects the post apocalyptic world and projects the end in a rather dramatic yet believable way. This make-believe world and the logic surrounding it is quite strikingly comprehended by the author into her story line, thereby helping her readers to connect with such a devastating world. The author's imagination may not be that unique but her creativity and the extent of it is certainly quite extraordinary. The book's cover image is not that alluring like its story line, overall, this is a feel good kind of book that will not let down the readers in any possible way.

The author's writing style is really strong, although it lacked emphatically, hence this is where the readers will find it difficult to anchor with the story's emotions. The pacing of the book is really fast as this breezy read can be enjoyed into just one sitting, and not to mention the gripping and scary action scenes will grip and chill the readers to their very core. The shifting narrative alternates between the past and the present, where the past, the time right before the game show, reads like some kind of movie script and the present, where the author gives her readers a peek into the mind of her protagonist.

The characters from the book are no doubt well developed, and the author's usage of not using a real name to her characters but to use a label name, like "Asian Chick", "Banker", etc. is remarkable, but then again, that stops the readers to connect or understand those characters. The main character, Zoo, a married woman, is realistically portrayed with her flaws, impulsive attitude, caring demeanor and brave outlook, but then again, she too lacked depth that stops the readers from connecting or rooting for her till the very end.

In a nutshell, the story is highly absorbing and bone-chillingly intriguing with a tense atmosphere, although somewhere the story lacked its own charm.

Verdict: A captivating read!

Courtesy: Thanks to the author's publishers for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.
Profile Image for Stevie Kincade.
153 reviews101 followers
December 1, 2016
(Audiobook) Firstly a word on spoilers: I am of the view that it is OK to talk about plot for the first 20% or so of the book. I don’t want to read a long description of the plot anyway, I want to read the synopsis and a few non-spoiler reviews AT MOST. Just tell me enough about the plot to give me a basic idea of how the story starts so I can know if I am interested. Now if you have NOT read the synopsis AND this is the first review of the book you are reading AND you know definitely want to read this, you might consider this review spoiler-y and want to stop reading. (Don’t forget to Like because I was so considerate ;) ). I am only going to talk about things that are clear from the synopsis and the first paragraph of other people’s reviews.

So if you’ve read ANYTHING about this book you are going to see words like “Post-apocalyptic” “Dystopian” etc. I would call it “reality TV meets I am Legend”.

Author Alexandra Oliva does an extremely odd thing with her central reveal which is that she all but spells the whole damn thing out between 10 and 20% of the way through. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed and I had it all worked out at the 15% mark. Even special needs level readers would have it solved by 1/4 of the way through.

Do you remember at the start of Dark Matter when Jason wakes up in the hospital in the alternate reality and he spends 5-10 pages not accepting his strange new reality despite the mounting evidence? He decides he is the victim of an elaborate prank or has a brain tumour and it went on way too long and became mildly infuriating? Well imagine if we followed Jason around for 4/5ths of the novel before he FINALLY ACCEPTS that - Toto we are not in Kansas anymore! Imagine every time something bad happens dude be like “Wow, big special effects budget!”

“The Last One” alternates Chapters between 2 viewpoints. The first viewpoint is of all the contestants on the reality show and the 2nd is the first-person perspective of “the last one” after THE SHIT HAS GONE DOWN

Now the central mystery could have been –

What was the shit that went down?

Or: Slow reveal…OMG shit has gone down! WTF? WOW!

Or WHY did this shit go down?

Instead Oliva decides the mystery should be:
Which of the female contestants from the TV show is “THE LAST ONE?”

But even this mystery is handled in a confounding way. Once we realise this 2nd perspective is not being identified, we mentally run down the list of suspects. How much would you enjoy a mystery where we strongly suspect Miss Scarlet in the Billiard Room with the Candlestick…and when we get to the end we learn it was Miss Scarlet in the Billiard Room with the Candlestick!?

The 2nd perspective is so gutdamn frustrating. (There was enough God-bashing in the book). Our supposed *&$% hero is just a moron who needs 7000 signs from above that she isn’t playing a game anymore. Then we get all of this emotion and desperation from this perspective. “OMG I MISS MY HUSBAND” “OMG I AM SO TIRED”.
From the reader’s perspective why would we care about such melodrama when we don’t know (for sure) who she is and whoever she is she is so damn dense. If you ever wanted a backseat ride with a really dumb character for the entire book, this is the one for you.

So it is surprising then that the first perspective - that of the reality show (Amazing race mashed up with Survivor) is actually very well written. There is an intelligence and humour to Oliva’s approach. In the first viewpoint we are told what actually happens and also what is edited into or out of the show. I found this to be a very compelling device. When I watch Survivor I try and notice things like them recycling old confessionals to manufacture new dramas and making that a central part of the story was brilliant. While very little of note actually happens in the first perspective, I am enough of a Survivor fan and enjoyed the writing so much that I was happy to follow along with the action. Whenever we switched back to the mystery-first person perspective I groaned.

Another aspect that was enjoyable was that the characters in the “reality TV” viewpoint are given the stereotypical shorthand names TV viewers consciously or unconsciously would ascribe: “Black Dr”, “Excorcist”, “Waitress”, “Air force dude” “Cheerleader boy”, “Construction girl”, “Asian Chick”, “Tracker” etc. I can’t tell you the real names of the people on the last Season of Survivor but I certainly remember “Surfer Dude”, “Bikini chick” etc so the way we reduce people to their most identifiable traits hit home a little.

In the 2nd perspective our “protagonist” only uses real names so we are left to puzzle out which of the female characters “Heather” is for example. The problem is of course that we simply don’t care

I can’t help the feeling that the author is a good writer who made 2 MASSIVE miscalculations with this story. 1) Misevaluating what the central mystery of the story should be 2) Not realising that spending half the book with a bloody idiot is NOT FUN.

To the narration: Nicol Zanzarella who narrates the first person female perspective was a very good actress. I would enjoy hearing her in something where she didn’t have to go FULL EMO the entire time. As good as she was, the character being so unlikeable and the EMOTION so NON-STOP it was hard to enjoy her performance. If she got to do something normal and then had to go emotional at the end I am sure she would crush it.

Mike Chamberlain narrates the “Reality TV perspective” and the dude just straight up read the book. Added nothing, no voice acting so um ya good job of reading the book I guess.

A movie that followed a linear perspective and didn’t try and get too cute with this story would work. “The Last One” made me annoyed enough to want to give it one star but given the the author obviously has some talent and I will go with 2.
Profile Image for Sarah DiMento.
187 reviews520 followers
February 10, 2017
"There were contingency plans in place, but not for this. It's a spiral like that child's toy: a pen on paper, guided by plastic. A pattern, something slips and-- madness. Incompetency and panic collide. Good intentions give way to self-preservation. No one knows for sure what happened, small scale or large. No one knows precisely what went wrong. But before he dies, the producer will know this much: Something went wrong."

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Finally wrote my review, and it's a long one! So I bolded most of my main points :)

3.5 stars!

Twelve contestants participate in the ultimate survival reality show, and in the meantime, while the contestants are alone in the wilderness, the world goes to shit. A plague wipes out a huge percentage of the population- the camera crew, the production team, the viewers, the contestants... gone. But our MC (who doesn't really have a name, but I'll get to that later) survives and has no idea, and continues her trek through the wilderness, facing horror after horror and thinking it's all staged and part of the "game."

"That's how they do it; they blur the line between reality and nightmare. They give me bad dreams, and then they make them come true."

The premise of this book was so, so intriguing to me, but the actual story was a mix between really awesome and some not awesome. I appreciated the themes and original idea (okay, surviving in a post-apocalyptic world isn't original, but having no idea your surviving in a post-apocalyptic world kind of is, and the whole reality tv element), but I felt the story kind of lacked in execution.

First, the awesome:

Like I said, I loved the premise for this book. Reading about the reality television show was fascinating- the way production team manipulates footage to show a certain idea. The show is supposed to be a test of endurance, and only ends when the last person gives up. It's marketed as one of the most expensive and extreme survival shows ever created, and it took itself so seriously- there were some laugh out loud moments for me because of the sheer ridiculousness of what was occurring.

"He looks ordinary enough here, but he's been cast as the wild card, the one whose antics will be used as filler as necessary, and to test the patience of the other contestants. He knows this, has embraced this. He is counting on viewers appreciating the brand of crazy he does best. His uniqueness will be revealed to the others in about an hour, and each and every one of the other contestants will have a thought- not an identical thought, but close enough- a thought along the lines of: I have to be in the woods with this nut job for how long?"

The story is told in alternating point of views. The reality show is described in third person as if we are reading the point of view of the production team or a viewer, before the plague hits. The other chapters are in the first person point of view of the main character, after she's been alone in the wilderness for some time. I loved the variation of perspectives and time, almost like what's really happening vs what the producers want us to see happening. Even though the MC doesn't even really know what's happening, which brings me to my next point:

I loved that we never really knew what was happening. The reader has some idea that people are sick, because it's hinted at in the very beginning, but we basically know as much as the MC about what is occurring in the real world. The MC has been alone for a long time in the wilderness, and isn't coping so well (I don't blame her), and is essentially an unreliable narrator. She refuses to see what is really happening around her, coupled with the fact that she breaks her glasses and , the reader is sometimes left questioning if we're seeing what's actually there or if it's obscured by the MC's dissociative mental state. She's spends an unreasonable amount of time alone, gets sick, fights off wild animals, but wants to believe it's just the most extreme solo challenge ever (because this is the most extreme survival show ever, right?) She comes across empty towns and wonders how much it cost the production crew to create such an impressive set. She sees dead bodies believes that they're "props" set up by the show, complete with smell and sometimes even sound. And the whole time, she believes she's being filmed, so the part of her that wants to be horrified is buried deep down in effort to appear calm.

"I'll let them record me, I'll let them follow and document. That's what I signed on for, after all. What I won't do is let them break me. I won't let them win."

I loved the social commentary the book made about reality television. These days, I don't watch television (except Game of Thrones!) and this book totally reminded me why. But I can admit I used to be a reality tv addict! It almost bordered on satire- how ridiculous the producers presented the show, the extremes they made contestants go, and what they let contestants get away with (hitting each other) for the sake of "good" television.

"They chose the shot, they chose the moment, this flash of one of the many facets of this young man's self. He could have been many things- scared, helpful, inquisitive- but instead he's a jerk."

The psychological examination of the MC was... Interesting. There was a lot going on there. She's hungry, dehydrated, isolated, and semi-traumatized from the things she's seen that she refuses to believe are real. Any person she meets she assumes works for the show, and begins to see the show as an enemy, when in reality meeting another healthy human is basically a miracle. She is so stubborn and refuses to "give up" (the contestants are told that if they say this specific phrase in Latin they can give up and go home at any time) because she doesn't want to seem like a quitter, when in reality she's enduring so much. She believes they won't let anything "that bad" happen to her, because they're watching her and it's all a show. Sometimes I felt like grabbing her and saying "hello! Look at what's happening!" But overall it was a fascinating look inside the mind of someone who is sort of losing it.

"As I pry up the rock, I think that I could never do all this if it wasn't part of the show. This adventure I asked for, it's not what I was expecting, not what I wanted. I thought I would feel empowered, but I'm only exhausted."

Aaand the not so awesome:

I've learned, through reading this book, that I'm not one for reading about isolated wilderness survival. The pages about skinning squirrels, building shelters, starting fires... They just draaaaaagged for me.

No one in this book had a freaking name. We're introduced to the characters by the stereotype that the production team has labeled them (Black Doctor, Waitress, Asian Chick). The MC is Zoo (because she works with animals). I consider myself a really flexible, adaptable, open-minded reader who is willing to give anything a chance when it comes to a book. So the characters don't have names? Okay, I can deal with that. I get why the author did it- we're confining each character to a stereotype or one defining characteristic because this is reality television, this is what viewers do (I do it). These aren't real people, or real situations, because it's a show. The problem for me came when the chapters switched perspectives. Zoo refers to her fellow contestants by their actual names, so of course, I had no idea who was who and who she was talking about at first. Eventually, I figured out at least the more major characters, but I felt sort of detached from any of the other characters.

"I feel myself getting harder everyday. Even when I startle and soften, even when my facade breaks. It seems to me that it always comes back harder, like a muscle strengthening with use. I hate it. I hate being hard and that my hatred hardens me further."

The more time Zoo spends alone in the wilderness, the more she thinks about her home, her husband, her problems at home, and the life she left behind. Her husband.. we don't learn much about him. He doesn't have a name (of course). She never discusses specific memories, or really anything specific about him (except he had cocoa eyes) and he was more of an abstract idea. When it came time to care about him, I just didn't care. Overall, I felt sort of detached from the entire story. As Zoo's mind and body start to deteriorate, I didn't feel anything or even really care about her, I kind of just wondered if she was going insane.

"I wonder if I can even do it anymore, be that person grinning until her cheeks ache. It was exhausting, as exhausting as this endless trekking, in it's own way. Give it a try. I look at Brennan and smile. I summon my most chipper voice and say, "Some weather we're having, huh?" My stomach turns; being cheerful hurt."

I found some parts of the story sort of not very believable. I think that was partly the point (because Zoo doesn't really have a sense of what's actually happening), but even looking at the story from not Zoo's perspective. For example, Zoo comes across her first empty town maybe a week or two after the plague hits. The town is completely empty, and I couldn't help but wonder how it would already be empty. I feel like it would take at least a week if not several weeks for the plague to actually spread and kill everyone (another thing... No one ever talks about what this plague is, where it came from), and that there would be a lot of chaos in the meantime that would've left its mark on the town. The shops are all locked up, with shelves fully stocked. I mean is it just me or does the end of the world seem like there would be a lot more breaking in/looting? This is pretty much how every town looks. I know there were evacuations that may have escorted people from the towns peacefully, before shit got really bad, but as we learn from Brennan, many people didn't evacuate. Any why was there Am I thinking too deeply about this schoolbus? Somebody explain!

Anyway, I don't know how this review got so long. Apparently I had a lot to say about this. Honestly, my complaints are mostly minor ones, I really enjoyed reading this book. If you like post-apocalyptic fiction you will definitely enjoy this one too :)

"A vise settles around my heart, my throat, as implication rushes me, and I squeeze my eyes tighter because it's all I can do, but it's not enough, nothing is enough, I know. I'm alive, and the world is exactly as it seems."
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,730 reviews6,661 followers
September 4, 2016
The Last One is a standalone, apocalyptic thriller written by Alexandra Oliva. I loved the original concept of the storyline. The heroine: Zoo signs up for a survival-based reality TV show and while competing, an epidemic of apocalyptic proportions occurs. However, she believes all the horrific real life surrounding her is a setup for the show. In her mind, the dangers she encounters are props, and the many risks are buffered by the safety of hidden cameras all around her. Her physical and mental fatigue show genuine reactions on her part, but she always has the thought in the back of her mind, "This is just part of the show." OMG, this element was incredibly scary for me as a reader. Ms. Oliva lets the reader know what is going on and we're left to watch Zoo wander around in a very dangerous wasteland thinking otherwise. The suspense was cringeworthy!

Personally, I wish the book only focused on Zoo and her survival during the apocalypse, but it doesn't. Flashbacks of the reality TV show are incorporated throughout which I initially found confusing for multiple reasons. The flashbacks refer to the characters by the nicknames producers assigned them for the show and Zoo's internal diaglogue uses their real names. It was quite the puzzle to match them up and I finally got to the point I stopped trying because I didn't care about the flashbacks anyway. Compared to what Zoo was going through present-day, the TV show just didn't matter to me anymore. The group dynamics, structured challenges, and behind-the-scenes production decisions took backseat and I was frustrated they kept popping up. But as a I write this, I'm thinking maybe that was the point Ms. Oliva was trying to make. Reality TV is not real and real-life is much more interesting. Hmmm...

Ms. Oliva gives readers another thing to think about in The Last One. The ending feels like a cliffhanger of sorts but there is no follow-up or closure planned to date. It appears it is meant to be an open ending. Because even though reality TV may have complete control over context and perception of every scene, the author doesn't do that to her readers. She allows us to imagine the ending we want which I think is pretty cool. Well-done on a good debut Ms. Oliva! I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this new author.

My favorite quote:
"Even the best among us can break."
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