The Last Girl by Joe Hart is Book #1 of the Dominion Trilogy, a near-future dystopian sci-fi thriller series. I chose this novel as my March Amazon Prime monthly pick. I’ve found some fun reads through this Prime perk, and have reviewed several on this site.
When I saw The Last Girl and read its brief description, my mind immediately went to real-world China, its one child rule, and its past preference for boy births over girl births. Although I understood why China made that rule, I knew its repercussions would have serious lopsided implications for future generations. Luckily that rule has since been relaxed. Although this novel doesn’t take place in China, I couldn’t wait to read The Last Girl. I don’t want to imply that it resembles China’s edict because it doesn’t – it has a far more interesting premise. What if there were only a few girls left in the whole world? What would happen to human beings as a species, and more specifically to those girls?
Something happens in the world a few years from now. It starts off with a virus – a new virus – isn’t there always a new virus these days? This virus, unlike the ones everyone has become accustomed to, has some unforeseen consequences that could prove catastrophic for human beings’ continued existence on the planet. Fewer and fewer baby girls are being born…in fact, less than 1% of all births worldwide are female.
Doctors and scientists around the world scramble to find a cure but, even twenty five years later, they’ve had no success. Now there are fewer than 1,000 women left on the entire planet, and a lot of them are completely barren.
And that brings us to Zoe. She and a handful of girls live in a heavily guarded, walled compound somewhere in what used to be the U.S. They are heavily guarded by men sworn to lay down their lives for them – men who are never allowed to touch them. They are closely monitored by doctors and their health is guarded over like the national treasure it has become. They are told they are the world’s last hope for survival, that everyone outside of the compound is infected with the virus…that the outside world is a dark and dangerous place they would not survive.
But if you’re thinking that Zoe and the other girls are treated like royalty because of their elite status, you’d be wrong. In some ways they are handled with kid gloves but in other ways they are treated horribly. In short, they’re treated more like lab experiments because doctors and scientists still believe they can overcome the virus and its consequences. They are objects in a scientific research compound, a necessary means to an end. Granted, it’s a very important end for the continuation of the species, but they’re human beings who can think and feel, and they resent every controlled minute of their lives.
Zoe is fortunate that some mystery person has left her gifts. Mint gum and books suddenly appear on her bed when she least expects it. If discovered, these treasures would be confiscated immediately and the person who gave them to her would be executed. So Zoe has rigged a hiding place for her treasures that, if she’s lucky, no one will find if (more like when) her room is searched.
Her most prized treasure is The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas because she knows exactly how its main character, Edmond Dantes, feels. She too is imprisoned against her will and she too wants revenge more and more every day against those who have imprisoned her. At the same time she’s seen what happens to girls who don’t conform, who try to escape, or who suddenly lose it and strike out at the people keeping them captive.
There’s a reason Zoe has become more intent on finding some way to strike back and to escape in the past few months. She is in her last year here because she’ll soon turn twenty-one. At twenty one, the girls are taught they get to leave the compound and join their parents for the first time in the protected zone. But Zoe has been watching this process for a long time now and she smells a rat. At this point, she believes it’s worth her life to find a way out of this unbearable prison.
“Terra is tall. Everything about her cries leader, and that’s why Zoey is so afraid.
‘I needed to talk to you. Before the ceremony.’
Zoey hesitates, hovering on the brink of an abyss before stepping off.
‘Pretend you’re sick,’ she says in a low voice. Terra tips her head and squints at her as if she didn’t hear what Zoey said.
‘So you don’t have to go.’
Terra sighs. ‘Zoey, we talked about this. You know it’s what we all want. I’ve been waiting for this day for years and years. For…’ Terra’s voice falters, and Zoey sees a sheen appear in her eyes. ‘…for as long as I can remember. The Program isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to embrace. It’s for the greater good of – ‘…’It’s true, Zoey. Today isn’t something I’m afraid of, and you shouldn’t be either. I’m going to get to see them today. I’m going to see my parents.’
…Zoey turns then, gazing up at Terra’s tear streaked face. ‘I don’t believe it. I think they’re lying to us.’
…Zoey steps away from Terra. ‘It’s a lie,’ she hisses, unable to contain the sudden fury that’s bloomed within her. ‘I don’t know what’s after induction, but it’s not what they say it is. It’s all al lie. I can see it on Miss Gwen’s face whenever she tells us about the safe zone. She’s lying and so is the Director.’”
Zoey doesn’t believe the façade of happily ever after that the staff present with each girl’s departure. She doesn’t know what exactly becomes of girls she never sees again, but she’s 99% certain it’s not a loving reunion with parents most of them don’t even recall. It doesn’t add up with the rigid way they’re being treated. Then there’s the mystery of the 5th floor – what goes on up there and why are they never allowed on that level? She can’t help thinking those two things may be linked and she wants out of this compound before she finds out – when she’s sure it will be too late.
Zoe has been incredibly sheltered, except for the forbidden novels she’s read. She doesn’t even remember parents or being in the outside world. Your life has to be pretty unbearable to want to risk everything to leave it on the off chance that a disease-ridden world would be better – and Zoe has hit that point in her life. She really believes that, if she doesn’t escape, she will soon die or something even worse so she has nothing left to lose. Does she know what she’s doing? Nope. You have to admire the inner strength and courage that takes. I wasn’t happy that what drove her was an inner rage against the lies, abusive treatment, and betrayals; however, I could certainly understand how she reached that state. My concern was whether she would ever get past that trauma. There is also a love interest BTW, which I’m not discussing to prevent spoilers. And there are caring people inside the compound in addition to power-hungry, abusive ones…possibly the reason there is hope for Zoe.
Joe Hart has given us a dystopian thriller in The Last Girl that borders on a horror story for any woman reading it. Why? Women know how easy it could be for the way we’re treated to slip down a dark alley even when things are seemingly normal. It made me shudder to think what would happen if only a relative handful of women were left in the world.
Since The Last Girl is Book #1 in the Dominion Trilogy, there is a world to build. I believe Joe Hart did a good job integrating attitudes and changes to the world without beating us over the head with it…or going all Mad Maxx on us. I got hooked almost immediately because Zoe is such a sympathetic character and I wanted her situation to get resolved. I’m really looking forward to Book #2, given the developments by the end of Book #1. Will you like it? I hope so because I certainly did.
Can’t wait to read it? The Last Girl is available from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the link below and you can have it to read instantly!
I’d love to get your comments about The Last Girl, Joe Hart and/or his other work, and/or this review.