The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Zoo is one of twelve contestants on In the Dark, a survivalist-type of reality show. She is doing this as a challenge to herself before she settles down and starts a family with the man she loves. Zoo successfully completes a week of group and team challenges and is enthusiastic to start the first solo challenge of the show. At first the challenge goes well but after weeks stumbling across rotting corpses (she knows they are props, she saw one when she was on a group challenge) and empty houses (how much did the studio pay these people to vacate while she walked by!?) she still holds on to the last clue she received: Home Sweet Home. Zoo is not a quitter, she is going to see this through to the end. She is walking back to her husband across Pennsylvania and the ruin the show’s producers have created because she knows home will bring an end to this stupid game.
The book is constructed in alternating chapters of the events happening for the show and just a few weeks later while Zoo is trying to walk home. As a reader we know something horrible happened while Zoo was in the woods, a pandemic of some sort, but she stubbornly holds on the idea that it is all part of the show. She sees cameras and props everywhere; she can’t accept that reality changed outside the game. The psychological strain of her surroundings, how she is able to change everything around her to fit the story she wants to tell herself, is amazingly well done. I felt that Zoo was believable with her blinders on, as readers we have her inner thoughts and the processes she goes through to manipulate what she sees with what she desperately wants to believe.
Fans of psychological thrillers will devour this book as will those who enjoy end of the world fiction and reality television shows. I’ll admit I have never watched Survivor or anything like it, but I was on the edge of my seat listening (wow, great book on audio!) to this debut novel.