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The Last Universe    by William Sleator Amazon.com order for
Last Universe
by William Sleator
Order:  USA  Can
Harry N. Abrams, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

I have never really been a fan of the science fiction genre as it seems to me to either be all about fantastic space travel or revolve around theories that I did not understand. William Sleator's books are different everything in them seems like it could really happen except for the little bit of speculation that revolves around a scientific principle. While I do not know a lot about science, Sleator explains difficult theories in an understandable way without talking down to the reader.

In The Last Universe, Susan is forced to care for her sick older brother, Gary. Every day since Gary has become wheelchair-bound, he has insisted on Susan wheeling him into the expansive garden behind their ancestral home. Susan has always been afraid of the garden and becomes even more so when tropical plants spring up overnight among the native Massachusetts flowers. Other odd things begin to happen, too, such as paths suddenly coming out in different parts of the garden. Even though Susan wants to stay away from the garden, Gary insists that something in it is going to make him better. One day, they discover what this something is a quantum hedge maze built by their scientist great-uncle. Soon, however, the teens realize that not only can the maze make Gary better, it can also make things a lot worse.

William Sleator does such a wonderful job explaining baffling quantum theory and showing how it works in Susan and Gary's experiences, that once I finished the book, I did not find it a scary topic any more. He also creates a very believable fourteen-year-old protagonist in Susan. His garden setting is so well-described that I felt like I was actually there, traveling along the unpredictable paths. This was a fast, interesting read that I could not put down. I enjoyed it immensely, because on various levels it reminded me of two stories that have stayed with me: Francis Hodges Burnett's The Secret Garden and Jorge Luis Borges's The Garden of Forking Paths. Anyone who is interested in learning more about quantum theory or who is intrigued by gothic science fiction should pick up William Sleator's The Last Universe.

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