Author: Jonathan Friesen
Title: The Last Martin
Publisher: Zonderkidz

Martin is a worrywart, a geek, and slightly strange. Most of that can be blamed on his family. His germaphobic mother attacks him daily with Germ-X and his father is obsessed with reenacting historical battles. The rest of his life is just as rough— the crazy gym teacher is out to get him, a dirty vagrant lives in his backyard, and the most awesome girl in school won’t talk to him.

But he’s starting not to care, because he just learned something even worse. He’s going to die within three months.

You see, his aunt is about to have a baby boy that is going to be named Martin, too. And on his most recent annual trip to the family’s historical cemetery, 13-year-old Martin notices a disturbing pattern on the tombstones of his ancestors. Whenever a Martin is born, the previous Martin dies. The dates all line up.

Can he fight the curse? Can he break it? What exactly caused it long ago with the first Martin? With his friends and sister cheering him on, Martin desperately seeks answers. And as he battles what seems to be a death sentence, he discovers something even more important.

There’s more to living than just surviving.

Jonathan Friesen has created an entertaining story with memorable, quirky characters. They are just weird enough to be hysterical while still retaining believability. There really are germaphobes out there. And lots of folks enjoy reenacting historical battles like Martin’s father does. I’m not sure how many folks have vagrant kids living in their backyard boxcar, but Poole makes the possibility seem reasonable. And don’t we all have best friends like Charley who have a crush on the same girl you do?

Martin’s imagination, as you might suspect, is highly developed. How else might he think he’s cursed? He demonstrates his creativity by writing a fantasy tale that is developed at key points throughout Martin’s personal drama. Each installment parallels Martin’s struggles, and eventually, his characters help him find a solution.

As a parent, I appreciated the character arc that occurs during Martin’s search for an answer. With a three-month “death sentence,” he quickly realized that life is precious. He must take advantage of every opportunity that he had previously bypassed due to fear, insecurity, and others’ opinions. He starts taking chances, accepting challenges, daring to risk humiliation and rejection. He starts to really live!

My 10-year-old read this book along with me. He highly recommends it to his peers “who enjoy mystery, fantasy, and humor.” He says, “The story starts slow, but the pace does pick up after a while. It’s really entertaining and funny. Martin’s dilemma seems realistic—a 13-year-old might really think he was going to die. Martin has a very strong imagination. That’s important because it helped him figure out the curse, and it helped him get the girl!”