________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 15. . . .December 13, 2013


13. (The Last 13, Book One).

James Phelan.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2014.
207 pp., trade pbk. & EBK, $7.99 (pbk.). ISBN 978-1-4431-2482-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4431-3308-1 (EBK).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Andrew Laudicina.

**1/2 /4



“…How do you know who we are? And what did your driver mean when he said I look just like my picture? Why would you have my picture?”

Lora smiled. “Sam, that’s a long story – ”

“Well try me!” Sam interjected. “Please, give us something.”

“OK, we know what you look like because we’ve been keeping an eye on you. On all of you. Through a friendly source. And that’s all I can say for now.” Lora said with finality. “We have to get off the streets first; we have to go someplace secure. Then, we can talk all you want.”

“We don’t have to get anywhere,” Alex said. “I want to know what’s going on—now!”

“OK…” Lora said, letting out a loud exhale, though her eyes were still scanning out the car’s window for threats.

Sam waited expectantly.

“Put simply?” Lora said, her voice quiet and matter-of fact. “The three of you are being hunted.”

“Hunted?” What, like animals?” Eva asked.

Lora nodded.

“By who,” Alex asked, “those guys back there?”

“Them, and pretty soon everyone else.”

“Why us?” Sam asked.

“Because right now, the three of you are some of the most valuable people in the world.”


On the morning that 15-year-old Sam wakes from a terrifying nightmare—one in which he dreams of the destruction of an entire city at the hands of an unknown dark figure—he is abducted from school by a team of armed guards. While mildly amused, Sam is also somewhat concerned at the predicament he finds himself in. Desperate for answers, he presses his fellow passengers, Eva and Alex, but before any real sense can be made of the situation, the helicopter they are traveling in bursts into flames. Surviving the crash landing, Sam, Eva and Alex are offered asylum by a second team of gun-toting agents. Desperate to escape their original captors, and possessing few real options in the matter, they accept.

     Whisked halfway across the world to a secret mountain hideaway deep in the Swiss Alps, the three teenagers are quickly brought up to speed. Much to their horror, they are told that the world is in peril, caught in an epic struggle between the forces of good and evil. All is, however, not lost. According to a centuries’ old prophecy, a select group of individuals, known as the Last Thirteen, will come to humanity’s aid. Sam is believed to be the first among the Thirteen to be revealed, but he has his doubts. What possibly could he contribute to this struggle? Little does he know that the answer he seeks, and the power the world needs to stave off annihilation, resides deep within him and in his dreams.

     As the first installment in a planned series of 13 books, 13 is charged with more than its fair share of world-building responsibilities. Despite this, however, the pace is quick with major plot events occurring in rapid succession. Further fueling the book’s speed are short chapters and Phelan’s employment of simple language and uncomplicated sentence structure. Black and white illustrations are also featured throughout, but they add little to the overall story, presenting information already conveyed in the text.

     With all of this taken together, not much is left for character development, despite the opportunity to explore such ground. Sam, for example, possesses a complicated past having witnessed the death of his best friend in a house fire. This reality, however, and Sam’s own difficulties in coping with a world and a family life revealed to be a complete lie, are given only minimal treatment. Perhaps a missed opportunity here, but there is certainly the possibility for such themes and insights to be explored elsewhere in the series, given the room the story has been afforded.

     A wide open ending that offers no real conclusion may leave a sour taste in some reader’s mouths, but, for most, it should provide just the right amount of incentive to continue along reading through to the series’ second installment. 13, and likely the series as a whole, is ideally suited for reluctant readers, especially young middle-grade boys who express an unwillingness to commit to reading long term.


Andrew Laudicina, a MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, currently resides in Windsor, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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