After his 20-year-old sister Rosa is found dead in a hotel room, Pancho is left alone, without any living family. Rosa, who was mentally disabled, died under suspicious circumstances. As Pancho leaves the trailer he and Rosa once shared with their father, moving into an orphanage, the 17-year-old Latino is obsessed with revenge. When he finds out who took his sister's life, he'll track down the perpetrator and kill him.
When Pancho gets to the orphanage, a priest takes him under his wing and puts him to work. He assigns him to help D.Q., an Anglo teen suffering from a rare form of brain cancer. Both boys are contemplating the end of their lives. D.Q. is facing death from his long illness, and Pancho expects to be condemned to prison after avenging his sister's death. D.Q. is composing the Death Warrior Manifesto, a Zen-like declaration to accept death and, in doing so, embrace life fully. “‘Life Warrior’ is probably more accurate because the manifesto is about life,” admits D.Q., “but ‘Death Warrior’ is more mysterious-sounding.”
Pancho's relationship with D.Q. leads us into a multi-layered story exploring grief, facing death, and the moment of decision when a young man decides what kind of person is he becoming. It also delves into Anglo-Latino relationships, as well as socio-economic differences, in a somewhat nuanced way.
Though I really liked The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, I didn't love it the way I did Marcelo in the Real World. That book pulled me in, making me eager to find out what happened next; I meandered through this one with less urgency. Though I quickly felt I was in Pancho's mind, it took me a while to connect with D.Q. He spoke like a miniature adult, in a way that was almost didactic. Perhaps the adult-like voice is natural, considering he'd already faced a lifetime of suffering. As the story progressed, I saw him more fully, glimpsing his faults and vulnerabilities. At this point the story became richer, and the relationship between Pancho and D.Q. blossomed and became more interesting.
I think this novel will be well loved by teens who enjoy thoughtful realistic fiction. Though it deals with dark subjects, the book's overall spirit is hopeful. I recommend it, and I think most readers will find this a richly memorable story.
Read More Reviews: A Patchwork of Books; Readingjunky's Reading Roots; Alison's Bookmarks
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