The Last Universe
Author: William Sleator
Publisher: Amulet Books
3½ out of 5 stars
You’ve seen the science experiments. The ones that kids always do for science fairs, where they train the mouse to navigate a complicated maze to make it to a reward, like a piece of cheese. They scurry through the cardboard corridors turning left, then right, then left again. At times they pause to sniff the air, wrinkling their whiskers, and then they drop back down to all fours and pad through the maze, triumphantly claiming their prize once they reach the cheese. But here’s a new twist. In this perilous maze, you’re the mouse, and there’s no cheese at the end, just a mouse trap.
Susan didn’t ask to go to the garden. She would have much rather stayed inside and chatted online with the few friends she had left, or go see a movie for once. But she couldn’t. That’s what having a sick brother does to you. Now, instead of being a normal teenager she has to take her sickly brother, Gary, for a stroll through their immense gardens whenever he so desires. It’s less of a stroll for him, as he cruises in his wheelchair while Susan struggles to navigate the gardens.
Making their way through the rose garden, the orchard, and even the pond wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the stories. The garden had been planted long ago by Susan and Gary’s mysterious uncle, and strange and disturbing things were have said to have happened in the garden. Susan and Gary never paid much attention to the stories before, until bizarre things start happening in the garden. Paths moved, tropical plants grew overnight, and the garden seemed to be alive with a new energy. Then Gary and Susan happen upon the maze. It can be seen from an upstairs window, but no one has ever been able to get to it… until now. Gary sees all of this as a change on the horizon, a way for him to get better. But all Susan sees is a dangerous new game that they shouldn’t be playing. Will Susan and Gary figure out what the strange changes in the garden mean, or will they die trying? All is revealed in William Sleator’s intense thriller that looks at our alternate realities in, The Last Universe!
The Last Universe is a mind-boggling read that questions what “real” really is. Every time Susan and Gary enter the maze, they come out into a new reality, a new universe. Sometimes the changes are only slight, and other times the differences between the original universe and the new one are vast. The maze is unpredictable, resulting in a read that kept me searching through the maze that The Last Universe created with every twist and turn. I suggest this read for teens who are looking for a sci-fi thriller with something to wrap your head around.
The rules that controlled the maze and the entire garden was challenging to understand at first. When I think of it now, I’m still confused by how the maze works. Quantum mechanics is the name of the game, and the rules are extremely complicated. Quantum mechanics deals with things such as the theory of Schrodinger’s Cat, and the fact that multiple universes, and realities could exist at the same time. For example, when Gary and Susan entered the maze, the deeper they went the hazier reality became, and they could see other versions of themselves in the maze at the same time. In some Gary was still in a wheelchair, while in others he looked healthy and was walking on his own. Each were different possibilities. The world of quantum mechanics is full of uncertainty, and consists of matter working at the tiniest of levels. Or at least, that’s my understanding of it. Luckily, the book takes quantum mechanics step by step as the story progresses and nothing was piled on all at once.
William Sleator’s intense writing and complicated storyline kept me involved throughout the entire book. The Last Universe is on the shorter side, but reading the book felt like a long ride. I had no idea what would come next in this world where nothing was certain, and one move could change everything. Every new baffling occurrence just raised more questions, and I never knew where the story was headed. I was trying to wind my way out of a maze of my own while reading. Even the ending of The Last Universe managed to cause my jaw to drop. The journey certainly made reaching the destination worth it.
At times Gary and Susan fell slightly flat for me. It would have been nice to have seen them fleshed out a little more, or have gotten to see them interact more outside of the garden. Their thoughts constantly surrounded the garden, but I didn’t get to know who they were as people beyond it. Seeing more sides of Gary and Susan would have made the story feel slightly more realistic. However, they did feel like the typical sibling duo who bickered, but underneath it all truly did care about each other.
The Last Universe led me through a winding maze of questions that may never be answered, but caused me to think about what my reality really is. With science, adventure, and mystery this is a read that will question everything you know. Join Susan and Gary as they search for the perfect world in, The Last Universe!
-This is T.B. with Another Book Back on the Shelf…
Until Next Time, Keep Reading!