I’m very excited to be celebrating the release of the second book in Lamar Giles’ Legendary Alston Boys series, which began last year with The Last Last Day of Summer. Thank you very much to the publisher, who sent me a now-rare physical ARC when I said that an eARC would mean that I couldn’t share the copy with my young friend K, who read and enjoyed the first book from my ARC.
The Last Mirror on the Left by Lamar Giles. Illustrated by Dapo Adeola. Versify, 2020. 978-0358129417. Read from ARC provided by publisher.
Before the story, in place of an inspiring quote is a definition for “kangaroo court”, a concept that turns out to be central to this book.
Sheed and Otto Alston, the Legendary Alston Boys, are trying to enjoy a laid-back Saturday, except that Sheed is constantly annoyed by Otto, who can’t forget that when time was frozen in their first adventure, he learned that Sheed has some kind of illness that will cause him to die young. But as he hasn’t figured out a way to talk about it, it’s just looming over his head and making him push Grandma to take them to the doctor without being able to explain why.
All of this is secondary, though, as Missus Needraw, proprietress of the Mirror Emporium appears in their bathroom mirror and tells them that a dangerous criminal has escaped from his mirror prison and that it’s all their fault. Soon, they’re off on a wild adventure involving mirrors with a myriad of functions, including prison cells, communication and teleportation devices and portals to parallel universes. Much of the story time is spent in a wacky mirror world where the friendly neighbor who barbecues for the neighbors in their own world now has flaming hot hands that allow him to grill without needing coals, and Grandma’s church choir ladies all have enormous hats with wings that really let them fly. (Hooray for the choir ladies!) In this world, they meet ArachnoBRObia, a group of spider kids. But are they a dangerous gang, as Missus Needraw claims, or a super cool band, as they themselves claim?
As Otto and Sheed chase down the criminal, the things they learn lead them to doubt everything they’ve been told and they start to wonder why it is that so many people are locked up in mirror prisons in so many different dimensions. And even as the scope of the problem they’ve been asked to solve gets bigger and bigger, Otto is always looking for a way to save Sheed while keeping the terrible truth from him.
There’s obviously some timely commentary on the prison-industrial complex here, but it’s set in enough speedy, slapstick adventure that kids who aren’t aware of this real world issue might not recognize the connection. Even those who are will appreciate the humor of talking about the term “kangaroo court” and then making one of the villains a kangaroo. This is a book with fast-paced adventure enough to draw in reluctant readers, but with enough heart and real-world issues – like what real justice is – to keep conversations going afterwards. If you haven’t yet met the Legendary Alston Boys, what are you waiting for?