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Fleen Book Corner: Last Pick: Born To Run

Round about a year ago, I wrote this about Jason Walz’s Last Pick:

You’ve been there, when the teams are picked and every kid is carefully scrutinized for what they’ll bring to the team and somebody gets left until last, the sting of uselessness hanging over them.

What happens when you’ve got a whole society — a whole world — of last picks?

As Roast Beef could have told you, you get a bunch of folks with a gigantic and deep-seated fury at the world, one which will kick just rich amounts of [alien] ass with a remarkable style.

A year later for us, a year later for Sam and Wyatt, it’s time to check back in on Elizabethtown, Kentucky and some alien world for Last Pick: Born To Run, a review copy of which was sent to me by :01 Books. Needless to say with the middle book of a trilogy, discussing this one will necessarily involve spoilers for two books. Proceed as you wish.

Actually, Born To Run suffers far less from middle book syndrome than you might expect; although Sam and Wyatt are split up — she taken by the aliens so that we may discover what befalls the kidnapped population of Earth, he leading the resistance and setting plans in motion back home — we get a remarkably efficient catch-up of book one in the form of Wyatt’s notebook¹ that doesn’t feel contrived at all.

Wyatt’s found himself that which he least wanted to be: the leader of a resistance group, and therefore the center of attention, which threatens to overwhelm him constantly. The one person that can keep him on task, Harper, is deaf; his ASL isn’t great, she has to write a lot down, the slowness gives Wyatt the




and bring his focus back where it needs to be — not overwhelmed, not stuck on minutia, just working the problem.

This small detail is a recurring theme in Born To Run: the aliens don’t want Harper or Wyatt because they’re broken and useless. But Wyatt’s a technical and tactical genius, and the very reason that the aliens disregard Harper is not only the key to unlocking Wyatt’s potential, but also the means of communicating with the remaining population of Earth right under the noses (or whatever) of the aliens. See, the aliens learned human languages so they could boss around those they took, and every town has its share of collaborators. But the useless? The broken? Ignore ’em.

There’s not an alien on Earth that knows sign language².

Meanwhile (and believe me, that meanwhile is doing a lot of work), Sam’s on another planet, part of a vast prison complex of humans that are doing alien dirty work. The sickness from book one isn’t from being on Earth, it seems; it’s a random thing throughout the alien worlds, and when you get sick, you mutate. But there’s a treaty that says one member of the alien society can’t kill another, not even a mutant. That’s why they steal the populations of other worlds — to carry out genocide.

Sam’s resisting for the sake of being a pain in the ass to her alien overseers. Her friend Mia is resisting because she’s the only one that grasps that what they’re being forced to do. There are humans that have been at this for years now, and for every one that’s died at the hands of mutants, guards, or an unforgiving environment, there are others that have managed to stay alive by being conscript murderers. A better metaphor might actually be child soldiers.

If they ever get their freedom, if they ever get back home, there is going to be an epidemic of PTSD and existential guilt. If humanity survives their liberation, I suspect it will only be because the last picked know what it’s like to need intensive therapy. Heck, the long march to freedom gets started because Wyatt and his fellow neurodivergent kids figure out what a month’s worth of their brain meds pooled together would do to anything that ingested them all at once. Time and again, they strike back because they have a different POV than the aliens are willing to consider.

And the last picks have a message for the conquerors:

You’ve looked past us because we didn’t seem useful. There might have been a time when we believed that ourselves. We might have believed that our worth was based on the views of the ignorant and cruel. We were scared of what would happen if we fought back.

But not anymore.

If that rallying cry is stirring, it’s also got a rebuke for everybody here that ignored or degraded those who were different before the aliens. All of humanity is going to depend on learning the lesson that the aliens refuse to acknowledge — that everybody is a person, no matter how different. Not everybody got that lesson, but Wyatt’s here to remind them:

We’ve all lost people in our lives who saw us more than those labels. And for once in our lives, it might be good that the things we’re up against don’t see us that way. Because now we get to tear up those labels, and save the human race.

Last Pick: Born To Run by Jason Walz releases on Tuesday, 8 October to bookstores everywhere. It’s appropriate for tweens and up, and probably has some decent lessons for those quite a bit older. The conclusion, Last Pick: Rise Up, is due next year.

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¹ A fan-supplied sample of which may be found at Walz’s website.

² Yes, I know — there isn’t one sign language, and the likelihood of enough people around the world knowing American Sign Language is a plot hole. The metaphor still works.

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