The Last Panther
“Kiri scanned the forest, spotting the panther less than a stone’s throw from where she crouched. Moonlight glinted off the panther’s fiery green eyes as the creature studied her.
Follow, whispered a voice that sounded less like her mother, and more like the hiss of a cat.”
The Last Panther explores conflicts of a climate-changed world where humans live in protective, walled cities or as refugees in outlying areas with scarce natural resources. Epitomizing the divide between “wallers” and “fugees,” the young female protagonist Kiribati finds herself torn between them in a fight over what should be done with two “once-were creatures” they capture—a leatherback sea turtle and a panther. Kiri longs to be accepted by her mother’s coastal “fugee” community that survives off the land and sea but craves the attention and respect of her father, a scientist who studies rare species for the “wallers.” Inspired by a spiritual connection to her mother and the earth, Kiri fights to mend the conflict between the two communities as she desperately tries to secure a future for them and for the nearly extinct animals that she feels compelled to protect.
The Last Panther fosters opportunities to study several ongoing climate concerns such as the plight of endangered species and the loss of habitats that support them; the importance of protecting existing ecosystems and biodiversity; the value of multicultural understanding, communication, and respect with regard to natural resources; and the patterns of human behavior that drive decision-making in the context of our natural environment. Studied in its entirety, the novel supports a variety of thematic considerations driven by Kiribati’s quest. Her devotion to her pet rat Snowflake and her friend Paulo offers both charm and humor as they navigate the obstacles of bringing people with conflicting motivations together. The arc of Kiri’s journey further opens conversations about spiritual connections to the earth and its inhabitants, cultural perspectives regarding death and the afterlife, the significance of an animal’s life, and the inherent value of a species. Kiri’s namesake also invites students to study real-world parallels between Kiri’s island community and the Republic of Kiribati.
As part of a broader study of climate fiction, species extinction, or the impacts of a changing world, the first three very intriguing chapters could be offered to pique student interest in unit themes. With a protagonist who must confront an ethical dilemma driven by the realities her community faces as well as the miracle she understands they have encountered, this section could also prompt further student investigations. By connecting with the intense emotions Kiri experiences in only these few scenes, young people may be able to envision themselves as prosocial change agents willing to take a stand in defense of the natural environment and of all those who live in it. Kiri’s story is an inspiring call to action, reminding us that “[w]e can’t hide behind walls, waiting for things to get better. We have to change things now. We have to tend the tree” (229).
Climate Conversations: https://www.climatelit.org/climatelit-events/past-events/
Author’s website: http://toddmitchellbooks.com/the-last-panther/
©2022 ClimateLit (Rebecca Young)
Audience: Questers (8-13)