The basic plot of The Last , by Timothy Mason, (2009, 311 pages) differs not much from several picture books: two kids find an animal and keep it as their secret pet. This book adds a nice twist in that the animal (a synapsid) is one that is extinct. And it can talk. I thought the author overreached, however, when he made the synapsid wise and king of all other animals. A secret pet that is an extinct animal and can talk seems more believable.
Faith, Colorado, doesn’t get many visitors. But this spring, a mysterious creature is lurking on the mountain. Fiercer than a mountain lion, it’s been hunting pets and leaving their remains scattered over the mountainside. But what is it, and what does it want? Only Rob and his best friend, Phoebe, are brave enough to investigate.
What they find on the mountain is the Last Synapsid—a squat, drooly creature that looks like a dinosaur crossed with a wienerdog—that claims to need Rob and Phoebe’s help. Having wandered into a time snag from his own era, 30 million years before the dinosaurs, “Sid” is chasing a violent carnivore called a gorgonopsid. The Gorgon has become fascinated by humanity and refuses to return to his proper place in time. But if he doesn’t, history will re-align, humans will never evolve, and Rob and Phoebe will end up as nothing more than characters in an elderly synapsid’s dream.
I love stories set in small towns, and stories with a strong sense of place. The author describes Faith, CO, a former mining town, really well. Though I have never spent time in a mining town, I could picture the unique features. I liked how all the residents of this community know and help each other. They have an ourdoorsy lifestyle, and appreciate the natural beauty around them.
Rob and Phoebe have been best friends since their preschool days. They are thrilled when they find the synapsid, a creature form the Permian era, millions of years before dinosaurs existed.They name him Sid. Sid is peaceful and kind to all. But there is another ancient creature who has shown up in Phoebe and Rob’s time–the gorgonopsid. This creature is mean. As if one villain isn’t enough, there is a stranger in town. He calls himself a professor, and says he has a plan to make the town of Faith rich, but he really wants to exploit the good citizens of Faith, as well as the synapsid. Will Rob and Phoebe be able to stop them both?
It seems to me this book faces something of a marketing challenge, in that kids old enough to read and understand it might think it’s about a dinosaur and therefore “babyish”. It does have a slightly corny tone that might turn off older middle grade readers. The book may appeal to readers who are animal lovers, and those who still have a fondness for dinosaurs.
Most of the time travel in this novel consists of the synapsid visiting Rob and Phoebe in modern times. However, by grabbing onto Sid, Phoebe and Rob are able to travel into the past with him. Thumbs up for the fact that they get to view their own hometown, in different eras. Thumbs down that these views are rather brief, sometimes just lasting moments.
Overall, I thought there were some great ideas in The Last Synapsid, although there was a bit too much going on, and the book was overly long. I would have preferred the plot be stripped down some.