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Book Review: “The Last Mile” by Blair Richmond (Review by Piper Hoffman)

By Piper Hoffman — April 21, 2015

lastmileVegan athlete Kat Healy is running The Last Mile (Ashland Creek Press, 2014) in this final volume of Blair Richmond’s “The Lithia Trilogy.”

Healy still has two men vying for her affections. Yes, both are vampires – but at least they are vegan vampires (they drink tree sap instead of blood). They “subsist on a plant-based diet, just like I do,” Kat says.

Not all the vampires in Lithia are vegan – take evil, homicidal uber-vampire Victor. He and Kat’s late father stand in for society-at-large: Kat’s dad carelessly consumed other creatures and exploited land for its economic value without caring about the environment as a whole, nor “the animals who make their homes here.” Kat explains: “My father never understood that the land is a gift. He was always seeking something from it, only interested in what he could take from it.”

Victor thinks of humans the way meat-eating humans think of non-human animals. Kat describes his attitude: “To Victor, people are nameless; they are just meals, some better than others. It’s the same way a human may look at a burger and have no concept that it was once a beautiful cow, a living being as sweet as a dog. No connection. No empathy.”

Victor’s justifications are tradition and habit: “I am far too set in my ways to change now,” he says, invoking a tired but popular cop-out, and prompting a tirade from Kat later in the book against preserving cruel traditions for their own sake.

One of the vampires who has rejected those traditions is Alex, the younger and more down-to-earth of Kat’s vampire boy-toys. Alex reveals to Kat that long ago he was a logger, but had the decency to be tormented by his work. “I felt so guilty,” he confides. “So cruel. I knew even then that what I was doing was wrong. The trees couldn’t fight back,” he remembers. The trees were “not bothering a soul…. And then we arrived with our axes and saws and train cars, and we left behind miles and miles of stumps.”

As Our Hen House fans are already well aware, Alex’s sentiment could also easily apply to factory farming. The animals can’t fight back – they are completely innocent. Yet people mow them down. Alex even uses the same reasoning for his work that many factory farm workers use. His dad was poor, and they needed the money he could make by logging. “So I did what I had to do.”

(Alex could arguably be a poster boy for the campaign against economic injustice that we animal advocates should wage. Ignoring the connection between poverty and animal exploitation is shortsighted. Poor people will work in slaughterhouses and will buy artificially cheap, government-subsidized animal-derived foods, because those are the options available to them.)

Economic justice isn’t the only stealth animal advocacy issue in The Last Mile; the book also discusses the choice not to have children. Author Richmond gives the topic a hat-tip in just one paragraph, but it is refreshing to see it raised in a book that focuses on animals and the environment. The mention will be welcome to readers who understand that the more humans there are on the planet, the more animals will be tortured and eaten, and the more wild animals will lose their habitats. Saying that she is “in no hurry” to have children, young Kat plans to see how her life unfolds, rather than decide definitely whether or not to become a mother.

As readers of the first two volumes in this young adult trilogy will know, Kat’s life is not a ceaseless round of moralizing. It is peppered with physical attacks, desperate campaigns to save land and animals, and the struggle to find time for school, running, her job at the running-shoe store, activism, romance, and theater.

And speaking of theater, Kat doesn’t act solely for love of the art. “When you know your life is going to be made up of fighting to save land, and animals, and all the other things that need saving, it helps to know how to face an audience, to develop the poise you learn so well by being onstage.” Wise words.

Facing mortal peril (I would have given a spoiler alert, but since it happened in each of the previous volumes it’s hardly unpredictable), Kat realizes that if her “life comes to an untimely end,” she is ready because she will leave behind a legacy of protected land and many animals saved. That makes hers a life well-lived, and The Last Mile a book worth devouring – whether or not you consider yourself a “young adult.” [Cough cough.]

It’s the kind of book that anyone who cares about the environment and all of its inhabitants – and also loves a good, fast-paced read – can get behind. It is rare for us animal advocates to find fictional characters (not to mention nonfictional ones) we can relate to. And if you do plan on passing The Last Mile along to your favorite actual young adult (after you read it, of course), I would guess that the very grown-up points this novel touches on will get their brain juices flowing. Hooray for fiction with a takeaway – the kind that might just save the world… yes, even in a vampire book.

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