The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

Francisco X. Stork
Scholastic • 2012 • 344 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-15134-4
Paperback ($9.99)
Ages 14 and up

The ancient Roman ideal consisted of “a sound mind, in a sound body.” When teenagers D.Q. and Pancho meet each other at a children’s home in Las Cruces, N.M., it takes both of them to make one complete almost-man. D.Q. is probably dying of brain cancer, but wants desperately to be well again. And despite his maturity and poise, he is deeply estranged from his mother and stepfather.

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Pancho has the health D.Q. longs for, but, having recently lost both father and sister, cares nothing for living beyond the day when he can track down and kill the man he feels is responsible for his sister’s death. Assigned to be D.Q.’s helper, Pancho learns about the other boy’s manifesto of the “Death Warriors” who are able to respond to all of life with love. Fate however, seems to favor Pancho’s less peaceful quest when he accompanies D.Q. for an experimental chemotherapy regime in Albuquerque, the city where his deceased sister’s former boyfriend happens to live.

Stork’s tale of the boys’ uneven progress toward true friendship, of D.Q’s battles with his wealthy mother, and of Pancho’s struggle to come to terms with his losses, is compelling and moves swiftly. The book’s essential message is occasionally too obvious, but Stork’s adolescent readers—especially those dealing with their own anger issues—will find themselves on the edge of their seats as Pancho’s confrontation with the boyfriend finally unfolds. Heartfelt, much less casually profane than many books for teenaged boys, and subtly informative about the cultural elements common to many Mexican-American youths, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is an admirable achievement.

—Reviewed by Coop Renner, Retired Librarian