The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Cover of "The Last Summer of the Death Warriors"Stork, Francisco X. The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010.

Plot: Pancho cannot seem to escape death. First his mother, then his father, then his sister Rosa died. And now he is stuck at St. Anthony’s, an orphanage, babysitting for D.Q., a blond, white kid who is fighting cancer and writing the Death Warrior Manifesto, an ethos for how to live. D.Q. might be a good friend, but he’s a good friend at the wrong time. Right now, Pancho just needs to find the man that he is certain killed his developmentally disabled sister and avenge her. But as the summer progresses, Pancho decides that revenge can wait as he stays by D.Q.’s side, pondering the meaning of life, death, faith, and friendship.

Setting: New Mexico, present day

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: Death, life, revenge, friendship, cancer, mental disabilities, coming-of-age

Literary Quality: The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is a powerful story about the coming-of-age and growing friendship of two young men. As Pancho and D.Q. seek the meaning of life and death, author Stork looks honestly at teen male relationships and asks tough questions about perceptions of individuals who are differently-abled. Much of Pancho’s journey to self-discovery involves recognizing his own guilt, misperceptions, and misunderstandings surrounding his sister, who he considered childish, stunted, and incapable of making mature decisions about her own life and sexuality. D.Q. simultaneously struggles over his relationship with his mother who abandoned him years before. Between the two boys, readers get a profound glimpse at the meaning of family, both biological and constructed. In the end, Stork asks grand, sweeping questions, which he answers with nuance, subtlety, and humor. Readers familiar with Don Quixote will also appreciate echoes of that tale here.

Cultural Authenticity: Francisco X. Stork clearly has a stake in the issues his novel explores. Like Pancho, Stork is Mexican American. His mother was forced to give birth to him in secrecy because of the pregnancy’s illegitimacy and his step- and adopted father died when he was thirteen years old. He also studied Latin American literature during the course of his higher education.

Audience: I would recommend this book to readers ages 13 and up due to the mature themes and possible implication of sexual violence and murder. Given the almost entirely male cast of characters I expect it will have special appeal to male readers, but the story will certainly be enjoyed by young women, as well.

Personal reaction: I was very impressed with Stork’s novel. I appreciated Pancho’s imperfections and his struggle to allow himself to be a good friend. Stork incorporates details about socioeconomic, racial, and physical values in our society and their implications with subtlety without underplaying their importance. Instead he suggests that a possible mix of all three sets of values and circumstances have caused the police to dismiss Rosa’s death, and have led Pancho to his current mission of revenge. The story has a lovely thoughtfulness to it. I think Stork asks questions that teens especially tend to ask themselves about the meaning of life and death, and he does not condescend in his method of asking or in his answers.

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