Rodman Philbrick’s dystopian novel, The Last Book in the Universe, is a narrative framed in a dystopian future, in which escaping reality has become the primary form of entertainment. Due to divisive class separations leaving the less fortunate to struggle for survival in the “Urb” while the upper class live prosperously in the city of “Eden”, the less fortunate are desperate for even a short reprieve from their daily difficulties. This escape is achieved in the form of “mind probes”, drugs that are taken by many as they allow their users to experience realistic hallucinations of more peaceful, enjoyable lives.
The story follows the main character, a teenager called “Spaz” due to his epileptic seizures. Throughout his travels, Spaz makes many new friends, the most notable of them being Ryter, an elderly man with an intense passion for pieces of literature. This is a strange and intriguing hobby to Spaz as, in this largely apocalyptic world, reading has essentially been abandoned. The story follows Spaz as he embarks on a high-stakes, danger-filled journey with his newfound friends in his attempt to forever change the dismal world they are stuck in.
Another theme integrated throughout The Last Book in the Universe that I felt made the book captivating was the idea of genetic engineering. The privileged in this strange society are not just separated by money, but are also separated from the people of the “Urb” on a genetic level. The “proovs” who inhabit Eden are genetically altered to be superior both mentally and physically to the average person. I felt as though this was an interesting topic as many recent biological advancements suggest that the bioengineering of human beings could soon be a real possibility. Though largely grounded in fiction, I found the idea of genetically modified people playing a significant role in shaping society intriguing when considering the futuristic ramifications this type of science may one day actually impose on our society.
I would recommend this book to young adults who thoroughly enjoy novels that belong to the sci-fi genre. The Last Book in the Universe is a short read, but filled with plot turns and near-death encounters that make for a gripping story that many young readers are sure to enjoy.