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Book Review

This coming-of-age humorous book by Jonathan Friesen is published by Zondervan and is written for ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Martin Boyle is a creative 13-year-old at Midway Middle School. His parents are Gavin and Elaina, and he has a sister, Lani. He loves to read and write fantasy stories. Martin's mother is overprotective, and consequently he and his sister lead sanitized lives of radical restrictions.

Martin's family lives in an industrial area between downtown St. Paul and the suburbs, in one of six old houses. Their house is near the railroad tracks, and there is a boxcar sitting on an abandoned track in the backyard. One day, Martin discovers and befriends an upbeat, homeless boy named Poole, who spends his summer months living in the boxcar. Poole offers a different slant on life and teaches Martin to be thankful for at least one thing a day.

Martin has a clueless best friend named Charley and a crush on his classmate Julia. In an attempt to get Julia to like — or even notice — him, Martin persuades Poole (who has not been attending school) to go to school. The plan is for him to get to know Julia and say nice things about Martin to her. Poole misinterprets Martin's instructions to "fire volleys back and forth with Julia," which results in a prune fight at school. Martin gets detention with Julia, and she starts to take notice of him and grows to like him.

Every year, Martin travels with his family to a remote cemetery to honor the Boyle family's war dead. When Martin inspects a row of headstones, all with the name of Martin Boyle, he notices that every time a new Martin is born, the living Martin dies, and there is only one Martin alive at any time. In 12 weeks, his Aunt Jenny is expecting her first baby boy, who she will name Martin. Martin realizes that having only one Martin in the family is a family curse, and he is only a trimester away from death.

To undo the curse, he finds out where it started. Then with the help of Poole, Julia and Charley, Martin pursues the root of the (accidental) family curse to an inscription and breaks it just as his cousin is being born. Through everything, Martin learns the power of words. And having been so close to death and then freed from it, Martin is given a new outlook on life.

Christian Beliefs

Uncle Landis gives thanks to the Lord before dinner. Poole talks with Martin about being thankful for at least one thing every day, because if a person feels thankful, then he is thankful to Someone, which is a form of praying. Inexplicably, Martin twice addresses God. Sprinkled throughout "The Last Martin" is a fantasy story Marvin is writing. In it, the king and the court officials lift a baby heavenward and pray with laying on of hands.

Other Belief Systems

There is a belief in the validity of curses, even on the part of the counselor Martin sees professionally. If the words of the curse are chiseled into something permanent, then the curse is permanent.

Authority Roles

The scruffy, somewhat stern Gavin, Martin's father, is retired from the military. He frequently is absent, days at a time, because he works at the Living History Museum at Fort Snelling, re-enacting Civil War battles. He arrives home, malodorous, wearing a bloody uniform and carrying a musket. Gavin frequently retreats from the rest of the family to the basement, referred to by Martin as Underwear World, because it is strewn with briefs and socks. Gavin loves his family. He is sensitive enough to apologize to Martin after showing him the decapitated bats in the attic and offers to get counseling for him. When Martin shows his parents a detention slip for throwing prunes, Gavin laughs and happily signs the paper. When he perceives Martin's romantic interest in Julia, Gavin attempts to have a talk with him about sex.

Elaina, Martin's mother, is overprotective and paranoid — a germaphobe (known as a mysophobe). When Lani sneezes twice at the dinner table, for example, Elaina keeps her home from school the next day; and Martin has to don a portable air bag whenever he rides the school bus. She keeps him out of school four days when his bus hits a pothole and his air bag deploys. Martin says she has "crazy juice that surges through her brain." Her paranoia is so profound that her children disrespectfully refer to her as the Barn Owl because she "sees all, moves silently and never sleeps." When Martin asks her whether she is ever afraid, she replies that she never is because she is always prepared.

Uncle Landis is more than rough around the edges. Gavin says he is a survivalist. He keeps loaded guns in every room of his farmhouse, even the bathroom where a loaded .22 holds the toilet paper roll. Aunt Jenny is marginally better, cautioning Landis to stop scaring Lani with talk of how chickens behave when their heads are cut off.

Mr. Halden, the physical education teacher, frequently threatens his students with The Treatment. He finally delivers on The Treatment by having Martin stand under alternating showerheads of very hot and icy cold water. In lieu of suspension, Mr. Creaker, the principal, decides to punish Martin by making him eat 28 prune cups. Mr. Creaker exhibits some sympathy for Julia, who is an orphan and a foster child, when he gives her a detention.


The words cripes and butt are used. Name-calling is done through words such as dumb, idiot and Purse-lips.

Elaina gives a somewhat morbid account of Martin's birth when the doctor declared him dead. Lani heaves her venison dinner on Martin's shoes. There is a description of extra-rare meat and the bloody trails it leaves on the dinner plate. At the cemetery, Gavin eulogizes the war dead, mentioning blood in the ground and mud oozing with Boyle blood. Aunt Jenny asks Lani if she's ever whacked off a chicken's head; then Uncle Landis tells Lani how the chicken twitches and flops afterward. Martin's dad installs sheets of contact paper in the attic to catch bats. The bats get stuck, and when they pull too hard, their heads pop off. The rafters are covered with bat heads, and the wings are stuck to the contact paper. Aunt Jenny prepares to skin a rabbit for stew, and Uncle Landis comments that it is still kicking and offers to hack off its foot as a lucky gift for Julia. Gavin waxes poetic with stories of blowing up people at Fort Snelling with "body parts flying, guts oozing."

Though not graphic, the effect of Martin's having eaten 28 prune cups is described as deep and ugly bowel rumblings, exploding guts and belly cramps.

Martin and Poole go with Martin's dad to Fort Snelling where it's the "realest pretend" Martin has ever seen. The actors are so immersed in their roles that everything becomes real, including the guns and his punishment of nine lashes with a cat. Fortunately, Poole has gotten the assignment of delivering the punishment, and he fakes all but one of the lashes, saying Martin needed a few welts on his back in case the colonel checks.


Martin says that Julia's eyes warm him more than the hot water from The Treatment.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • When Charley needs help with his English paper, Martin agrees to help him by writing one page of a story for him.
  • What problems does this create for Martin?
  • What problems does it create for Charley?
  • How is this a form of lying?
  • How is it a form of stealing?
  • What would you have done in Martin's place?

  • Martin comments that he threw a prune and started a second prune fight. Even though he knew it was wrong, it felt so good.

  • What is wrong with this kind of logic?
  • What would our society be like if everyone acted out their feelings?
  • Why shouldn't our decisions be guided solely by our feelings?

  • "Words have power" is a phrase often repeated in The Last Martin.

  • What do you think it means?
  • Do you agree?
  • What kind of power do some words have in your world (e.g., consider advertising words, mean words and legal words)?

  • Poole learned how to be thankful from his father. Name one or two things you are grateful for.

  • When Martin is in detention, his mother comes to take him home. She succeeds in overruling the teacher, but Martin refuses.

  • Was there a better way for him to handle his refusal?
  • Was his mother coddling him in this instance?
  • How would you feel if your mother embarrassed you in front of an entire class?
  • How would you respond?

  • During the family meeting, Martin reveals that he is tired of constant worry over germs and potential dangers.

  • Was he respectful when he gave his opinion?
  • Why was his mother so defensive?

  • When Martin returns from Fort Snelling, his father tells his mother that he has never been more proud of Martin.

  • Why wasn't his father proud of him before?
  • What did Martin do differently that made his father proud of him this time?

  • The threat of death gives Martin a new sense of freedom.

  • Why do Christians get to experience a freedom from death, too?
  • What does the phrase "freedom from death" mean?

Additional Comments/Notes

Tobacco and alcohol: Soldiers spit tobacco chew at Fort Snelling. A prisoner in the guardhouse at Fort Snelling is a drunkard.

Lying and stealing: Martin lies about why he is to wearing bright yellow pants and a neon pink shirt. He hacks into his dad's online bank account to withdraw $2,000 from his own college savings to pay for a hot air balloon ride. Lani helps him by giving him the password. After the track meet, he lies to his dad about going to celebrate with the team. Poole also lies, telling the school that he is Martin's cousin; and Martin describes him as a con artist. Poole fabricates a home address for the school records. The kids say they are at Charley's house whenever they want to go somewhere or do something that their parents/guardians wouldn't approve of.

Safety: There is no mention of wearing helmets when Martin and Julia use the four-wheelers, and Martin has no instruction on how to drive one.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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