THIS REVIEW OF ‘LAST PICK’ & ‘LAST PICK: BORN TO RUN’ CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Kate Kowalski. Welcome to the new world order. The young, the old, the vulnerable and the disabled are of little value to society and should be left to fend for themselves or die. Hits a little too close to home, right?
In the Last Pick series (soon a trilogy), Jason Walz depicts a dystopian Earth populated by those deemed “worthless” by its new alien overlords. The able-bodied, neurotypical humans between the ages of 16-65 were taken years ago, and it’s up to those left behind to survive and build some semblance of a dignified life.
We’re introduced immediately to our twin heroes—Sam and Wyatt. Sam’s the girl on the ground, gathering supplies and outrunning gluttonous, globby aliens. Wyatt’s wearing the headset, directing the action, and referencing hand-drawn data. These two have a plan to rescue their kidnapped parents and revolt against the aliens. Stealing technology and evading capture is the name of the game in volume one of Last Pick, as the twins make a formidable united front. Of course, rarely do things go according to plan in a post-apocalyptic tale, and our duo is divided. From here they develop new skills and strategies as the plan splits and evolves on their now separate but intertwining paths.
For Wyatt, that means learning to rely on others besides Sam for help—not only with his grand-scale battle plans but with interpreting and processing the day-to-day kind of stuff. Wyatt falls on the autism spectrum, perceiving and handling the world a bit differently than his sister or most of the folks around him. Walz crafts a deeply empathetic insight regarding Wyatt’s take on the world around him, using expressive backgrounds and visual metaphors to let us experience the story through his unique lens.
One of the many spectacular things about Last Pick is its breadth of representation and depiction of those who are different from the established societal norm. Disabilities, racial diversity, and queerness are not sprinkled in after-thoughts, they’re at the core of our heroes and their friends who fight this battle. Walz creatively wields not only his words but his ink in portraying the world through not-oft considered perspectives. I was stunned by the first speech bubble I’d ever read not populated by written words but ASL hand signs—used not as a one-off novelty but impactfully throughout the second volume.
The aesthetic of the series is unique, especially for a book aimed at a younger audience and especially for the sci-fi genre. The world and those who inhabit it—both alien and human—aren’t constructed by rigid lines or symmetrical spherical shapes but amorphous and organic outlines, reminiscent of the natural world, what you might find under a microscope or blooming in a tide pool. This is very evident in the aliens, ranging from tiny in stature to massive in scope, whose forms are rather blob-like and occasionally adorned with spirals. Their physiques match their technology—an unsterile slime-slicked system. These extraterrestrials are much different than little green men or spindly-fingered Grays.
Jon Proctor deserves a spotlight for his color work. The palette is at once muted and secondary (a natural choice for a dystopia), but vast in range of hues. There aren’t many bright reds here, but Proctor offers dozens of shades of oranges and pinks—and the aliens’ oozing or scaly skins represent every shade of puke green imaginable.
The craft behind Last Pick pushes boundaries. The story and its themes are more timely than ever. It takes a stand and broadcasts a message of value (see Walz’s endnote in the first volume, a powerful message about inclusion and opportunity for all that made me misty-eyed). I believe its boldness is its strength and that strength is firmly rooted in its YA genre trappings. (It has admittedly been a while since I had delved into anything specifically aimed at an audience younger than, well, adult—I forgot just how empowering YA fiction can be.)
The times are beyond tough. Pandemic life hangs at varying levels of bleak for everyone. To top it off, an uphill battle (to put it lightly) of revolution is brewing. We could all stand to glean some of that wide-eyed hope and unapologetic moral backbone Walz infuses in this tale. I’ll leave you with this battle cry of a thesis: “Know what happens when you decide a whole bunch of people are worthless? Someday they show you what they’re worth.”
First Second / $17.99 each
Created by Jason Walz.
Colors by Jon Proctor.
9 out of 10
‘The Last Pick’ & ‘The Last Pick: Born to Run’ are available now. You can purchase them here.
‘Last Pick: Rise Up’ hits stores October 3. You can pre-order it now.
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘The Last Pick’, courtesy of First Second and Macmillan Publishing!