The Last Safe Place on Earth

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Todd, 15, thinks life in the quality community of Walden Woods is perfect, until Laurel, his dream girl, comes to babysit for his sister and reveals the forces of fundamentalism and censorship at work in the town.

A provocative new novel by a highly honored author that speaks to today's issues of censorship and fundamentalism. ...
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Todd, 15, thinks life in the quality community of Walden Woods is perfect, until Laurel, his dream girl, comes to babysit for his sister and reveals the forces of fundamentalism and censorship at work in the town.

A provocative new novel by a highly honored author that speaks to today's issues of censorship and fundamentalism.

Fifteen-year-old Todd sees his perfect suburban world start to unravel when his little sister has her mind poisoned by a member of a fundamentalist sect and he begins to notice signs of censorship in his community.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fifteen-year-old Todd sets out to undo the workings of an extremist religious group; in a starred review, PW called this "taut [and] suspenseful... a highly topical tale." Ages 10-up. (Aug.)
The ALAN Review - William R. Mollineaux
When a knife fight break out in their children's junior high school, the Tobin family moves to Tranquility Lane in Walden Woods-seemingly, the last safe place on earth. However, several incidents dispel this illusion: a babysitter terrifies the younger Tobin daughter by convincing her that Halloween is the devil's night; a drunken joyride culminates in death; drug dealers infest Founders Park; the school administration refuses to sanction an AIDS Awareness meeting during school hours; and the Religious Right launches a book-banning crusade against The Diary of a Young Girl and The Chocolate War. Peck impeccably spins an absorbingly realistic story that will force high-school readers to question and examine their values, as well as the pernicious effects of censorship. Additionally, readers will identify with the humorous, insightful first-person narrator, sophomore Todd Tobin, as he discovers that there is no safe place-anywhere.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-With his picture-perfect family, sophomore Todd Tobin lives on Tranquility Lane in Walden Woods. Elitist, undoubtedly racist, and subtly sexist, this is a place where people assume they are safe from harm. Peck paints the surface of this world as attractive and provides a first-person narrator with immense appeal and a fine sense of humor. This calm facade is the backdrop for a truly terrifying novel. Laurel, who babysits for Todd's sister Marnie, is a teen who clutches her Christian self-righteousness as a cloak of safety because of her dysfunctional family. Her talk of devils, hell, and evil traumatize the little girl. First the child has nightmares, and then Todd discovers her trying to flush her witch costume down the toilet in an eerie night scene. Other issues, such as censorship in the community and Todd's geeky friend C.E.'s struggle to care for himself due to an absent father and an alcoholic mother cause the family to pull together. Parental involvement and basic neighborliness are resurrected as solutions. The fundamentalist Christian right is depicted as both frightened and frightening. Walter Dean Myers's Darnell Rock Reporting (Delacorte, 1994) is more lighthearted and Avi's Nothing But the Truth (Orchard, 1991) more distant from the characters. Through Todd's affection for Laurel, Peck makes readers see that she and her family (if not her church) are not just the opposition, but people entrapped by their narrow-mindedness. The scary and real consequences of letting censors go unchallenged is not denied. As Todd says, ``I must have known there is no safe place.''-Carol A. Edwards, Minneapolis Public Library
Hazel Rochman
Like a heavy-handed warning, Peck dramatizes the danger that is among us, even in what appears to be the civilized order of the suburbs. Todd feels safe in his comfortable family, who joyfully celebrate Halloween, go to church, and try to be decent, responsible people. As a sophomore in high school, he figures he's "reasonably normal 20. 20. 20. 20working real hard to be noticed without being different." He gets a crush on Laura, who baby-sits his little sister--only to discover that Laura is a fundamentalist Christian who brainwashes and terrifies the child by telling her about evil witches and devils. Hate groups and book censors in the community are openly trying to ban books that don't fit their views. And Todd discovers hidden censorship, even among the kids themselves, who don't want to know about things like AIDS. Where are community values? The didacticism is loud and clear, and the foreshadowing is heavy. One teacher even acts as spokesperson, spelling out the messages, and the class discussion of "Fahrenheit 451" is a commentary on what's happening now. Yet, as always, Peck writes with wit and warmth that will sweep teens into a world they'll recognize. He has a sharp eye for the poetic image that captures the contemporary scene (after hearing of a fatal car accident, Todd says, "I was still collapsing the aerial on the phone"). Most moving is Todd's discovery of his own failure: he hadn't seen that his best friend was in serious trouble.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440220077
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 12/13/2005
  • Series: Laurel-Leaf Bks.
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.14 (w) x 4.32 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Peck
Born in Decatur, IIlinois, Richard Peck has written over 18 novels for young readers. He is the winner of the 1990 Margaret A. Edwards Award, a prestigious award sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association in cooperation with School Library Journal; the 1990 National Council of Teachers of English/ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to young adult literature; and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award.

Peck says, "I want to write novels that ask honest questions about serious issues. A novel is never an answer; it's always a question." In The Last Safe Place on Earth, Peck deals with the serious issue of censorship, and young readers will have many questions long after the close the book.
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Read an Excerpt

The lunchtime rumor was about who was driving the van when Tara Lawrence was killed.  The driver was either Colleen Florio, Steve Inge, or Boomer Holmberg. There was talk about raising funds for some kind of memorial to Tara, but people didn't think anything would come of it She hadn't been in Fortnightly or anything.

Pace Cunningham's Mercury Capri came up, too, but nobody had a theory about who'd hot-wired it off our front curb.  The insurance covered the damage anyway.

They'd upgraded the lunchroom with a salad bar that C.E.  and I avoided.  The two of us took our trays back, and C.E.  was doing his duck walk through the cafeteria chaos.  Then he looked down at a girl finishing her lunch at the end of a table.  "Hey, Laurel.  What it is."

Laurel was sitting there.  "Hi, C.E.," she said.

Here's Laurel having lunch by herself two tables over from where C.E.  and I have been scarfing down mystery lasagne, mashed potatoes, a full sack of Doritos, and raspberry seltzer.  All this time Laurel was there, but I can't see the forest for the trees, or maybe the other way around.  The point is, C.E.  knows her.

The cat had my tongue.  Besides, the bell was ringing, and it was biology.  But out in the hall I was practically wringing my hands.  "C.E., how do you know Laurel Kellerman?"

"She's in my math class.  How do you?"

Laurel was this fantasy I hadn't happened to mention to him.  "She baby-sits Marnie.  Butwait a rninute.  What do you mean you know her from math class? You mean Math for Daily Living?"

But what was I going to say--that Math for Knuckleheads was about right for C.E., but too dumb for Laurel?

"Yep." He found his locker on the first try and spun the combination.  "We're doing fractions or something.  She's in my English class too.  We're doing Julius Caesar.

"C.E., we did Julius Caesar last year at Ridpath."

"We did? I might have been absent that day."

Like we did Julius Caesar in a day.  Besides, C.E.  was never absent, another one of his peculiarities.

I think I could be in love with this girl, I didn't say to him.  This is the most incredible girl I've ever met.  She's totally unique.  She doesn't even pierce her ears.  She's cool as college, but she's also like a wounded doe or something.  And I have this urge to fly away with her to the moon, or at least to some school-related event in a non-dating situation.  It could be my hormones, but I think it's love.  I didn't say any of this to C.E.  He gazed up at me, though, with interest.

We didn't have swim practice that afternoon, but I'd have cut anyway, just to make sure I didn't miss Laurel.  I'd forgotten about the pumpkin vandals.  When I got home the front lawn was still a disaster area.  The volleyball ghost had lost its pillowcase, which had blown around a tree.  Still, I went inside first to check on Laurel, and Marnie of course.   But they weren't there yet.  Marnie stayed at grade school until Laurel could walk her home from there.

I went for some of Dad's leaf bags, and when I got back, they were there at the edge of the yard, hand in hand.  Marnie looked really serious, and I thought she was probably upset by somebody trashing the decorations.

"What happened?" Laurel asked.

"Creeps.  Early Halloweeners.  In the olden days they turned over out-houses." This was for Marnie, because she looked serious enough to cry.  She was getting those little dark places under her eyes, and her face looked pinched.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 10 )
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  • Posted April 14, 2012

    The main character Todd, now living in a suburban setting, has r

    The main character Todd, now living in a suburban setting, has really fallen for his sister Marnie’s new baby-sitter Laurel. She is nice and kind, but keeps her distance in a mysterious, creepy way. After a few weeks of spending time with Laurel, Marnie begins having nightmares of things like hellfire and tells her family they will go to hell because they do not believe in things like ghosts and creepers. When asked who told her this Marnie tells them Laurel taught her this. By they Laurel had already taught Marnie most of the Christian-fundamentalist things she knew. Beside the fact Todd not knowingly let a Christian-fundamentalist corrupt his sister, Laurel’s mother was working on shutting down the old elementary high school because they will not take out the books her church group believes should be censored. Many of the books mentioned that Laurel’s mother believed they should take out were titles many of us can recognize. These Christian- fundamentalists want nothing but pure power in this book. The end however was disappointing. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Halloween or the Fall season due to the time this book takes place. I would also recommend this book to anyone who enjoys argument over every day issues like censorship which is argued over in this book, or anyone who enjoys family which this book is very well based upon.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2008

    th last safe place on earth

    i loved this book at the begining. it was interesting and i couldnt put it down. but then the ending was disapointing and made no sense. they should have made another chapter.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2005

    Gladys Geraldine a 10th grader at HHS Reading for a english Class Project

    Richard Peck does a really good jod on writting his books. For example one is on choosing the tittle for his book 'THE LAST SAFE PLACE ON EARTH'. Well to me this tittle seem really intresting.The tittle made me want to read this book and when i started reading it, It made me want to read more to find out what happends next.This novel that Peck wrote was about this teenager named Todd he is a 10th grader HS.He then gets intrested in a preatty girl wich is her little sister's baby sitter.But then Laurel the babysitter starts telling her little sister stories about how halloween is for the devil and evil stuff. That freaks out the girl and that puts Todd on the spot, making him think if that really is the last safe place on earth.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2004

    Great Book

    This was an awsome book. I don't recomend this book for children who are starting to read Chapter Books. It is totaly different from his 'Fair Weather','Long Way from Chicago' and 'Year Down Yonder'. He brought up a lot of problems that schools are facing today about cencorship.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2004


    The Last Safe place on Earth is a great book!!! Another book of Richard Peck's ALL fans should read Are You in the House Alone? was GREAT!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2002

    Review by Michelle written on April 23, 2002

    In the course of The Last Safe Place on Earth, Todd learns that compassion, dignity, respect, and courage provide the best response to hatred and bigotry. When a knife fight breaks out in their children¿s school, the Tobin family decides to seek refuge in what they believe is heaven on earth, the suburban town of Walden Woods. However, several happenings take place that cause the Tobin family to question their decision. This seemingly quaint, tranquil town is the home of a babysitter who terrifies the younger Tobin daughter, Marnie by telling her tales of devils, hell, and various other evils during their ¿story time¿. Walden Woods is also the home of drug dealers, a homophobic school administration that refuses to authorize an AIDS Awareness meeting while school is in session, and the Religious Right group that propels a book-banning campaign against The Diary of a Young Girl and The Chocolate War. This town¿s residents also battle alcoholism, child neglect, and physical abuse. There are several significant themes displayed in The Last Safe Place on Earth. In this novel, the idea of education occurs both inside and outside of the classroom. Conventional schooling does not provide the majority of learning in this novel that simple observation does for both the children and adults. Instead, school is used to prevent the children from wanting to learn. Peck makes it clear that the Tobin children are very fortunate to have their parents teach them about human nature. The theme of superstition focuses on the illogical judgments made by seemingly intelligent people. It is fear, ignorance, and prejudice that keep these superstitions alive. The novel¿s realistic characters and enduring themes make The Last Safe Place on Earth a wonderful novel. Peck has a great gift. He manages to convey to the reader all of life¿s lessons with a marvelous humor that pervades the entire novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2002

    The last safe place on earth

    I think the book by Richard Peck was very well written. Everything that happens has a quality to it that makes it seem like it could really happen, but like everyone knows somethink like what happened in the book wouldnt normally happen in someone's life. But I think Richard Peck did a great job in making the story seem real.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2001

    Get Stuck In The Last Safe Place On Earth

    Tenth grader Todd Tobin thinks he lives in the perfect world. He and his family, including his little sister Marnie, live on Tranquility Lane in the little town of Walden Woods. Everything is going great for him, and even his not-so-cool days in high school begin to look better when Laurel Kellerman, Marnie¿s new babysitter, walks into his life. She is everything a guy could want. She is beautiful, fun, talkative, and great with Marnie. But when Marnie starts acting strange, the suspicions turn to Laurel. What is she really telling Marnie when they ¿read stories?¿ Is sweet Laurel the cause of all the chaos in the perfect town? In this book, Peck does an excellent job using various methods of characterization to describe Todd to the reader. In the beginning, he is quite frank and simply tells the general information about Todd, but further in the book he uses many less obvious ways. Peck tells anecdotes of Todd¿s life and each one adds to the character¿s development. Another way that Peck develops Todd¿s character is by the different types of dialogue he uses while speaking to different people. For instance when he talks with C.E. his best friend, he is comfortable, and casual. Then when he gets around Laurel he gets shaky, but tries to sound more intellectual to impress her. Throughout the book Peck really develops Todd as a character and I think that is one of the stronger qualities of this book. The Last Safe Place On Earth is well written and had a great plot line that kept you captivated. I found myself not being able to put it down. The character and setting development is magnificent. This could quite possibly be the ¿perfect book.¿

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2000

    The Best Book Ever

    This book is cool cause it is exciting. It also has mysteries you would want to figure out beforeit happens.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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