Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Last Beekeeper

Cartaya, Pablo. The Last Beekeeper
July 12th 2022 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Yolanda lives with her older sister Cami on the family finca in a much altered future world. Climate change has caused cataclysmic problems, and much of the world is uninhabitable. The girls' parents were taken away from the government, which is horrifically intrusive. Everyone must carry a V-Probe, and if it is not online, there are sanctions. At one point, the much older Cami was sent on Retreat, which is part social service and part punishment, and returned with a badly damaged hand that had to be robotically augmented. This experience is something that she never shares with Yolanda, and the two rarely discuss their parents, the government, or even the sire straits that there farm is in. They grow strawberries, and have to pay for robotis drones to pollinate them, but the fruit is still hard and unripe, making it difficult to sell for much of a profit. Yolanda really wants to take a virtual class in Advanced Neurolink, hoping to become a doctor who can install these high tech devices and to have a better standard of living. The mayor of the nearby town, Blackburn, offers Yolanda a scholarship when she finds out Cami can't afford the class. Cami warns her that she should not accept, but Yolanda goes behind her sister's back. Later, she finds out that the cost of her education will be going on Retreat herself. Yolanda has a friend, Arelis, but the two usually only connect online. Arelis' brother is having trouble, but it's hard to find out exactly what is going on without the government finding out. When Yolanda is curious about her abuelita and Cami won't tell her much, she does some digging and finds a book that her grandmother wrote about the bee population. All signs point to a hidden hive that could pollinate the strawberry plants, and also provide the girls with honey that they could see at a high price. One of the people willing to pay for this rare commodity is Hortensia Blackburn, the sister of the mayor. Dealing with the bees is dangerous on a number of levels. Will Yolanda be able to work with them in order to save her family and friends from the unlikely source of the serious threats?

Yolanda is a great character who wants to become educated as a way to get away from the grueling life of farming in a world badly damaged by climate change and strife. Her professor and fellow students try to sabotage her at every turn, but she is dedicated to learning more about technology so that she can help others, as well as herself. Cami's reticence is understandable, given the trauma in her past, but she eventually learns to communicate with her sister. The Blackburns are clearly villians in the most classic sense, but the Mayor is delightfully oily and seemingly nice, which always makes for a much scarier villian, in my opinion!

There are a growing number of middle grade science fiction books that center climate change, but even Bachorz's 2011 Drought talked about some of this! I have certainly been aware of the problems with bees ever since reading Burns' The Hive Detectives in 2012! This is a growing concern for children, and I have to say that the idea of drone pollinators made me feel a teeny bit better, although I will still keep my bee garden! I loved that Yolanda's gradnmother had been a scientist. This is definitely a dystopian book, but one that is less concerned with the world and more concerned with how the characters are reacting to it in order to make circumstances better. 

For some reason, this reminded me strongly of Perry's The Scavengers (2014), and had some tones of Burt's Cleo Porter and the Body Electric (2020). We're seeing more and more books addressing the future if critical issues aren't addressed, like Welford's prescient The Dog Who Saved the World (2021) and  Rosenberg's environmentally themed One Small Hop (2021). Since the end of The Last Beekeeper contains a surprise twist with one of the characters, I think we may look forward to a sequel to this one!

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