The Dove Foundation
The Last Martin” is a fast-paced and quirky story of growing up, discovering your independence, and learning to truly live.
When Martin Boyle concludes that his name is cursed and he has only weeks to live, his entire world is altered. Long an outsider at school and perpetually worried due to the influence of his hypochondriac mother, Martin finds his pending demise a source of dread, but also a catalyst for dramatic changes. In short, in the face of death, Martin begins to learn what it means to live---but will that prove a lesson that comes too late?
Jonathan Friensen grabs the reader’s attention from the start, and the pace hardly lets up through the next 266 pages. The book is written from Martin’s perspective so it takes a bit before the various elements of the story come together clearly, but once they do it is a worthwhile adventure. Medieval knights battle, friends are made, crushes blossom, wars are reenacted, and all the while death edges ever closer. Touching on themes of fate, friendship, family relationships, and navigating the difficulties of school life as a teenager, I found “The Last Martin” to be a fun read and a strangely inspiring tale.
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Thirteen-year-old Martin Boyle hasn't had an easy lifenot with an obsessive, germaphobic mom and a dad who is often off fighting old battles as an Army re-enactor. His problems escalate, though, on the annual trek to the family's cemetery, where he notices the correlation between birth and death dates of all the Martin Boyles. It seems there can be only one living Martin Boyle. Notably, tradition mandates the firstborn son in each Boyle family have the name Martinand, unluckily for our Martin, his Aunt Jenny is expecting her first son. Martin has only a few more weeks to live! The realization causes Martin to step out from his mother's neurotic protection and live a bit more recklessly. He befriends Poole, a young vagrant/orphan with a remarkably sunny outlook who lives in the abandoned boxcar in Martin's backyard and acts out in school. He starts talking to Julia, a girl he has a crush on who is in foster care and often in detention. He even goes to a reenactment with his father. Martin enlists the aid of Poole, Julia, and his friend Charley in an attempt to uncover the source of the Boyle curse and save his life. While the story is extremely far-fetched, Friesen does deal with some difficult themesdeath, self-awareness, maturation, and living life to the fullness. Martin, Poole, and Julia are all dealing with tremendous emotional issues (mostly caused by adults), without any responsible adult in the picture. In fact, many of the adults in the book (e.g., Martin's aunt and uncle, his parents, the PE and detention teachers) seem caricatured and unresponsive to the youths' situations and needs. The many subplots split readers' attention and are not resolved. What will happen to Poole now that folks know he's on his own? What's Julia's story? What happens to the love triangle that has grown to a quadrangle? The fairy tale that Martin writes for Julia, about a white knight rescuing a beautiful princess, holds together better than the main story. That is not to say the book is without moments of great humor, excitement, and even insight. Its weirdness might even attract readers. Reviewer: Peg Glisson
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Martin Boyle was "born dead," his lifeless body placed on his mother. Suddenly the baby moves. From that moment on, his mother does everything in her power to protect him from anything that could possibly harm him. In fact, she crosses over into paranoia and obsessive behavior. Martin's friend Charley is used to him getting on the bus each day with his portable air bag strapped to his chest and his mother running to school to check on his safety. During an annual trip to visit the old family cemetery, the boy realizes a strange correlation among the Martins in the family. It is tradition that the first boy be named Martin, but each time a new Martin is born, the old one must die. His Aunt Jenny is pregnant with a boy, due shortly. Martin knows that his days are numbered so his actions become reckless, which lands him in detention and gives him a chance to get to know his crush, Julia. He has been writing a story about a white knight, a black knight, and a princess, which Julia loves. The story symbolizes an escape that both Julia, a foster child, and Martin crave. The crisis of Martin's impending death is the joining factor in this odd hodgepodge of characters, including Poole, a spirited but unkempt homeless boy. They form a bond in trying to keep Martin alive. This is a sobering read in many respects as many of the adults are directly responsible for the emotional baggage these children carry. Julia fights against it, Poole runs away, Martin's sister cowers, but Martin triumphs. Minor characters such as the physical education teacher who employs completely illegal means of punishment will further fuel readers' angst. This is a great choice for discussions.—Julie Shatterly, W.A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC
The revelation that every time a new Martin is born into his family another one kicks the bucket stuns, bums and ultimately lights a rocket under 13-year-old Martin Boyle. Friesen presents his earnest narrator as a lad so under the influence of his fanatically safety-conscious mother that he flies into a panic at any encounter with nature ("They're only trees. They're only ugly trees. They're only ugly, boy-hating trees. They're only ugly, boy-hating, hungry—") and wears a portable air bag on the school bus. The discovery of matching birth and death dates for all the Martins in the Boyle family cemetery sends Martin into a tailspin, but with help from a sturdy supporting cast he pulls out and firmly resolves to grab life with both hands while finding a way to break the "curse," if he can, in the few months remaining to him until his Aunt Jenny's due date. These helpers notably include Poole, a young vagrant with a relentlessly sunny outlook, and classmate Julia, to whom Martin fears to speak until she takes his developing story about the adventures of a White Knight and his Lady Love and creates gorgeous illustrations. Spiced with plenty of slapstick, the yarn speeds its protagonist through a succession of highs, lows and improbable triumphs on the way to a hilariously melodramatic finish. (Adventure. 11-13)
Read an Excerpt
The Last Martin
By Jonathan Friesen
Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Friesen
All right reserved.
Chapter One I was born dead.
Lani adds stupid and scrawny, but my little sister wasn't there. Mom was the only witness and she owns the tale. She loves to tell the story — usually on spaghetti night — of an evil umbilical cord that coiled like a python around my neck. I came out purply-gray. Silent. Still.
Dr. Underland's quick hands untangled me. She whacked and squeezed and inflated my limp lungs. But my wrinkled skin turned cold, and soon the doctor conceded to Death. "I'm so sorry." She shook her head, held me up for the light to glimmer off wet, raisined skin. "It's been too many minutes."
Mom pursed her lips and nodded. "Of course it has." For months, Elaina Boyle prepared herself for this moment — the one when disaster would strike. She knew I would die.
"I fear this was meant to be."
Mom always pauses here for dramatic effect. She reaches over the table and tousles my curly hair, hard. My glasses break free from their perch on my nose and fall lens-down into the spaghetti sauce.
Mom doesn't notice. She's in her glory throughout this tragic epic. "Dead. Limp. Lifeless." She perks up. "Another meatball, Martin?"
I grab a napkin and smear lumpy red off my lenses.
"I was certain your birth would be a tragedy," she says.
Dad clears his throat. I sit quietly. Lani can't.
"It was!" She grins and sneezes.
"Would you be quiet?" I say.
Mom lunges over the table and snatches up our centerpiece, a soap-filled gravy dish surrounded by fake fruit. A minute later, Lani is lathered and cleansed. Mom breathes deeply and continues. "Maybe if your father had been around —" She shoots Dad a sharp glance. His garlic toast pauses halfway between plate and mouth, then finishes the trip.
"Had he been home, I wouldn't have needed to find my own way to the hospital. Oh, the stress. You could have lived."
"But I did live!"
"Yes, I know." She looks at me and sighs. "Such a strange day that was. Cheese, anyone?"
Mom's in no hurry to retell the rest. But it's Dad's favorite part, so it's my favorite too.
The doctor placed my tiny carcass on Mom, and she cried — big, fat Mom tears. Three minutes later, she launched into her what-a-dangerous-world-this-would-have-been speech. It must have been a stirring version because I hiccupped. Again. And again. Then I coughed.
Mom sniffled and sat up. "What's happening?"
Dr. Underland dropped her clipboard and rushed toward the bed. "Touch him! Rub him. Your son is trying to live."
Mom lifted up my arm and let it flop back down. "Can't be happening."
It took a while for me to convince her, but by evening I had earned "miracle child" status, and Mom was overjoyed. As was Dad.
He burst into the newborn nursery the next day, fresh from the airport and still wearing his army fatigues. He grabbed the first child he saw, raised him to heaven, and christened him Martin, Martin Boyle. The child already had a name — Ahmad — and this caused quite a commotion. A husky nurse yanked the double-named brown kid from Dad and pointed to the bluish boy in the corner. Dad said he'd never been so proud.
He scooped me into strong arms, as every firstborn male born into the Boyle clan has been scooped. He spoke the words every firstborn Boyle has heard:
"I name you Martin."
And for the first time in my brief life, I cried.
* * *
I drop my fork with a clink. Mom's holler interrupts her own spaghetti story, and she scurries over to the cowbell that hangs above the kitchen sink. Lani and I cover our ears.
Mom sounds the alarm. Children beware. Get off the tracks, a train rumbles near.
She feels them coming deep in her bowels. I'm not sure where exactly that is, but her saying the b-word makes me squirm.
Of course, there are no children on the tracks, but Mom says she sleeps better knowing she did her part.
"What if?" She points to the three of us in turn. "What if there had been children at play on the rails? And they were deaf or dead? And the railmen fell asleep and rounded the bend?" She folds her arms and raises eyebrows in victory. "What would you say then?"
Lani shrugs. "Deaf kids couldn't hear your bell and dead ones don't need to?"
Mom puffs out air, plops down in her chair. "But my conscience is clear."
Clearly disturbed. Clearly paranoid. So yeah, clear.
But Mom's right about one thing. There are trains. Lots of them. House rattlers that rumble so near our home, the glasses tinkle in the cupboard.
It's what comes from living In Between, in the no-man's-land between downtown and the suburbs. It's an odd middle place filled with steel factories and smokestacks and train yards. It's where the Burlington line tires of heading north, hangs a U-ey, and heads west. And in the middle of the concrete and steel stand six old houses, built before there was concrete or steel. Huge houses that don't belong.
"Still," Mom continues, "train infestations are safer than animal infestations. In that regard, you're safe as safe can be," Mom says. "Surrounded by activity, out of the city, near a hospital, and far from the wilderness."
She fires Dad another harsh look. This time he sets down his fork and folds his hands. His cool eyes catch Mom off-guard, his words slow and carefully chosen.
"I can't help it my brother and Jenny chose to live in the country." He glances around the table. "Don't worry. It's not for another week, and we won't stay long." He lowers his voice, so that I think only I hear. "Hate to see you mauled by a squirrel."
"Can't Martin and I stay with Uncle Landis while you two go to the cemetery?" Lani squirms. "All those dead bodies —"
"Yeah." I bite my lip. "We could wait for you both at the farmhouse. I never met those buried people anyway."
Mom pushes back from the table. "Do you hear them, Gavin? The children are terrified and for good reason. They understand that cemeteries are breeding grounds for germs and —"
"No." Dad stands, and his eyes flash. "We will all go — Lani, without your attitude; Martin, without your fantasy books; and please, Elaina — without your paranoia."
Dad whips his napkin onto the table and storms down the stairs to Underwear World.
It's silent until Mom clears her throat. "Don't worry. I'll talk to your father."
I can't look at her. If Dad walked up, I couldn't look at him either.
So much for making him proud.
Excerpted from The Last Martin by Jonathan Friesen Copyright © 2011 by Jonathan Friesen . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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