The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
When Pancho Sanchez arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, his 17-year-old self has already survived too much death, and yet he’s planning on more. The last of his family – his mentally challenged 20-year-old sister – was found dead in a motel room. While the police insist what happened was an accident, Pancho knows his sweet sister was murdered … and with no one left (their father died just three months ago, their mother years before when they were still young children), he has nothing more to lose.
And then he meets D.Q.
Daniel Quentin – “but everyone calls me D.Q.” – is on an impossible quest (Don Quixote, anyone?), mainly because he’s dying … of cancer. He’s been writing his “Death Warrior Manifesto” – “‘I’m not crazy about the name … because it has all sorts of negative implications. ‘Life Warrior’ is probably more accurate because the manifesto is about life, but ‘Death Warrior’ is more mysterious-sounding.’ And he inexplicably chooses Pancho (wasn’t Don Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza?) to be his fellow warrior. “‘The first rule is: No whining,'” he insists.
When an experimental treatment becomes available in Albuquerque, D.Q insists Pancho accompany him. Pancho readily agrees, as he’s managed to track down his sister’s killer to an Albuquerque address. Waiting there for D.Q. will be lovely Marisol, who works at the aptly named Casa Esperanza, a care facility for young cancer patients. Waiting, too, is D.Q.’s mother – surprise! he’s not an orphan, after all – who abandoned her son once before but is desperate to redeem herself by saving him this time.
As memorable as this novel is, you can’t believe how much heavier its imprint becomes on your heart, long after you finish it. If you choose to stick the story in your ears, D.Q. and Pancho’s voices won’t stop ringing: narrator Ryan Gesell is both sensitive and controlled, even as the punches (literally) fly.
Author extraordinaire Francisco X. Stork (oh, Marcelo in the Real World, be still my heart!) deals with Big Themes – life, death, love! – with patience and even humor, but he also seamlessly weaves in matters of race, ethnicity, haves vs. have-nots, parenthood, mental illness, and more. Before you close the book, turn to the title once more: that word “Last” keeps resonating, not only for what you’ve just read, but for what gets left unsaid.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult