By Francisco X. Stork
Seventeen year-old Pancho is one tough hombre. And he’s royally ticked. With a deceased mother, his father recently killed in a work-related accident, and his mentally challenged sister, Rosa, dead, he lands in a New Mexico orphanage mad at the world and aiming to make the world pay. Detectives say Rosa’s death was due to “natural causes,” but Pancho suspects foul play. He formulates a plan to identify Rosa’s killer and wreak his revenge.
Pancho encounters an unexpected wrinkle when he meets D.Q. (Daniel Quentin) at the orphanage. D.Q. has authored “The Death Warrior Manifesto.” (“Rule number one: No whining.”) Impish, intellectually buoyant and devilishly mischievous in spite of a cancer diagnosis, D.Q. pegs Pancho to be a fellow “death warrior.” The Panda (priest) who runs the place assigns Pancho as D.Q.’s helper for the summer, a prospect that thrills Pancho about as much as a cat in cold bath water. Will he choose death and revenge or the way of the “death warriors” – fighting for every last shred of life and love as long as they last?
Francisco Stork’s young adult novel is gutsy. It asks tough questions and avoids patty-cake, trite answers. It engages quickly, combining elements of both a murder mystery and a romance story as main characters battle doubt, disease, abandonment, despair and their own inner demons. The novel is artfully written with realistic, three-dimensional characters and crisp dialogue (may be too gritty for gentle readers). A unique story with some unusual plot twists, Last Summer is worth a look.