The Last Soldier by Keith Gray


Set in 1922 in Texas when two brothers, 15 year old  Joe and 12 year old Wade, face up to some hard facts about their lives.

The book is dyslexia friendly (published by Barrington Stoke) but the writing is sophisticated and it will appeal to all readers. There are sumptuous descriptions – ‘that year was hotter than the Devil’s own frying pan’, ‘needle-sharp teeth and a terrifying lust for blood’ and ‘the shadows clung to the wall like thick cobwebs’ are just a few of the that set the reader’s imagination alight. I had only read a few lines, and despite the rather damp English weather, I felt myself in Texas burning up in the heat with Joe and Wade.

Joe and Wade are from a poor family. Their father went off to fight in WW1 and has not returned and the family lives in limbo, unsure if he will ever return. In the summer of ’22, Joe turns 15 and the carnival comes to town. As both boys chase their demons – the local bullies for Joe and the Museum of Marvels for Wade – they find themselves facing up to the reality of their family and their future.

This is a bittersweet tale, beautifully described. There is no magic wand to better the boys’ lives but there is a peace to be found and an understanding to reach.

The chapters in the book are short, as is the overall story, so this is an ideal book for readers who struggle with long, thick books but enjoy beautiful language and getting lost in their imagination.

The Last Soldier has been shortlisted for the Scottish Teen Book Award – see BT&M’s post.

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