Book Review: The Last Book In The Universe

Awhile ago, I wrote a post expressing my desire to add a literacy component to my high school science classes. Books like A Wrinkle In Time, The Giver, Tuck Everlasting and other science-fiction and fantasy works sprang to mind. I want to find books that can be related to science, as well as students’ lives in order to instigate conversations about technology, progress, and scientific ethics.

Recently, I read The Last Book In The Universe by Rodman Philbrick and it was the exact type of book I was looking for!!

“Following the Big Shake, which destroyed most of civilization, a small group of individuals (the “proovs”) retreated to Eden, learned how to improve themselves genetically, and sealed their environment off from the sprawling ruins inhabited by the remaining normals. Plagued by genetic defects, a toxic environment, and illnesses, normals like Spaz live in the Urb at the mercy of latch-bosses and their gangs. Spaz knows that his survival depends on Billy Bizmo and the Bully Bangers, so when they send him to rob an old man, he obeys. Ryter willingly surrenders his few possessions except for the pages of the book he is writing-the first time Spaz has seen anything like this. And when the boy sets out to find Bean, his dying foster sister, Ryter insists on accompanying him. Along the way, they are joined by Lanaya, a proov, and Little Face, an orphan. Finding Bean is hard enough; helping her appears to be impossible, until Lanaya takes the motley group back to Eden and confronts the rulers with the truth about the outside world. This is science fiction, not a fairy tale, and everyone does not live happily ever after… Also, the science part of this sci-fi is vague. However, readers who don’t examine it too closely will be caught up in the novel. There is definitely room for a sequel…” (from Amazon.com)

This book is ideal for discussing science ethics in the classroom for many reasons. It is a middle school reading level, which is perfect for the assignment, because I’m not concerned with challenging students’ reading skills, but giving them a book which they can read with confidence (I’m in an urban setting, so literacy is a huge issue). It only took me a day at the beach to read the entire book, which is fine with me because I’m mostly concerned with students’ reacting and processing their thoughts regarding the content of the book; the assignment would conclude with some sort of cumulating project, presentation, or class discussion. Below, I’ve listed some of the main issues addressed in Philbrick’s book.

There’s even an activity guide related to the book on the author’s website!

Topics worth discussion:

  • Genetic Engineering
  • Experiencing pleasure through “probing” and how it might relate to students’ lives
  • Racism
  • How to prevent allowing technological and scientific progress to get out of control
  • No more books and/or printed materials

Ways students can identify with the characters:

  • Gang involvement
  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • Lack of access to healthcare and other daily needs
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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anne Cramer on March 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    A few other books I love to teach with science-

    Little Brother by Cory Docotorow

    The Adoration of Jenna Fox by

    The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

    Reply

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