The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books; 1 edition (March 1, 2010)
Reading Level: Young Adult
Wow. It has been a long time since I've come across a YA book with as much depth as this one. Frankly, it completely floored me.
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is a modern day adaptation of Cervantes' Don Quixote. But you don't need to be at all familiar with that work in order to appreciate this novel.
Pancho is a robust young man (17 yrs old), driven by the desire to avenge the murder of his sister. D.Q. is also 17, but seems ageless, wise beyond his years, and is dying of cancer. On the surface they have nothing in common: Pancho is all brute strength and bitterness; D.Q. is passionate, optimistic, eerily intelligent, and desperate to live life to its fullest, even though (or perhaps because) he doesn't have much time left. They meet in an orphanage, and D.Q., sensing something special about Pancho, immediately recruits him to be a Death Warrior. What is a Death Warrior? The concept is inspired by Henry David Thoreau's famous declaration in Walden, "I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." According to the Death Warrior Manifesto that D.Q. has been writing,
Anyone can be a Death Warrior, not just someone who is terminally ill. A Death Warrior accepts death and makes a commitment to live a certain way, whether it be for one year or thirty years...Once you accept that life will end, you can become a Death Warrior by choosing to love life at all times and in all circumstances. You choose to love life by loving.
I finished the book last night (eyes still red this morning from the weeping...happy weeping as well as sad weeping), and I can already tell this is going to be a book that stays with me for a long time...one that I will be harassing friends and family to read asap so I have someone to discuss it with. The philosophy of the Death Warrior is simple but powerful. Who hasn't felt the haunting sense that we're wasting the limited time we have on this planet? It's easy to ignore that sensation and just carry on with our daily routine...but The Last Summer of the Death Warriors gives you a righteous sense of shame for doing so, without being preachy. No small feat.
The book has a bit of everything: action, romance, poignancy, humor, villains, heroes, life philosophy etc. Come to think of it, the only thing it's lacking is vampires. Just kidding!