Warning: Contains Plot Spoilers!
The Last Chance Texaco
By Brent Hartinger
Fifteen years old and parentless, Lucy Pitt has spent the last eight years being shifted from one foster home to another. Now she’s ended up at Kindle Home, a place for foster kids who aren‘t wanted anywhere else. Among the residents, Kindle Home is known as the Last Chance Texaco, because it’s the last stop before being shipped off to the high-security juvenile detention center on nearby Rabbit Island–better known as Eat-Their-Young Island to anyone who knows what it‘s really like.
But Lucy finds that Kindle Home is different from past group homes, and she soon decides she wants to stay. Problem is, someone is starting a series of car-fires in the neighborhood in an effort to get the house shut down. Could it be Joy, a spiteful Kindle Home resident? Or maybe it’s Alicia, the bony blond supermodel-wannabe from the local high school who thinks Lucy has stolen her boyfriend. Lucy suspects it might even be Emil, the Kindle Home therapist, who clearly has a low opinion of the kids he counsels. Whoever it is, Lucy must expose the criminal, or she’ll lose not just her new home, but her one last chance for happiness.
Major Themes and Ideas
(1) People are sometimes very different than they appear at first.
(2) Not everyone starts at the same place in life, and it‘s impossible to judge another without first seeing things from their point-of-view.
(3) Sometimes to have faith in yourself, someone else must first show faith in you.
(4) There is no such thing as a “last chance,” and no human is worthless; in the end, anyone can find personal redemption if they want it.
(5) Being a fully mature, ethical person sometimes means putting the concerns of other people ahead of oneself.
(1) At one point or another, Lucy refers to almost all the characters in the book as animals. What does Lucy’s choice of animal say about each character? Is she fair? Which animal in the book do you think represents Lucy, and why? What is the author suggesting by giving Leon the last name “Dogman”?
(2) Fire appears frequently throughout the book (e.g. the scenes of smoking, the car fires, and in the final conflict with Yolanda). What does this say about the theme? How is fire used as foreshadowing? What do you think is the significance of the name “Kindle” Home? (Hint: “kindle” has two meanings: to cause to burn, but also to nuture young, especially rabbits.)
(3) At one point, Leon says “There isn’t anything in Kindle Home that isn’t broken somehow.” Is he just talking about the house? In what ways are the other characters “broken”? In what ways is the house itself a metaphor for the setting and the story? How is the house a metaphor for Lucy herself?
(4) Throughout the book, Lucy frequently confronts barriers of some sort: sticky doors, blocked views, crowded or blocked hallways, a Plexiglas window. How do you think these barriers relate to the story, and what, therefore, is the implication of the final scene?
(5) All the adults at Kindle Home–Leon, Mrs. Morgan, Ben, Gina, Emil, and Megan–have very different approaches to their job. What are their various strengths and weaknesses? Which adult had the “best” approach? Which had the “worst”? Is there more than one way to be an effective counselor?
(6) In what ways is Lucy to blame for her situation? In what ways is she not to blame? Is there really such a thing as a “last chance,” after which a person is beyond redemption? At what point exactly does Lucy find redemption? Why does it mean that she is willing to sacrifice herself to help Nate?
(7) Is Nate a bad person for misjudging Lucy at first? What does it say about him that he is willing to overlook her situation to see the “real” her? Have you ever met someone, only to later learn that they were very different from your first impression? How do the people in your life misjudge others?
(8) The first sentence in the book is “The door was locked, and I sure as hell didn’t have the key.” What is the key? Did Lucy have it all along, or did someone give it to her?
Suggested Class Projects
(1) Class presentation topic: Have each student pick the animal they think best represents them, and have them describe why. (For junior high: have the students make masks of that animal.)
(2) Make a “keys of success,” with large construction paper keys on which kids the can describe the ways in which they can overcome the obstacles in their lives. Make a “key-ring” to feature all the keys.
(3) Many of the characters in The Last Chance Texaco have two identities: a “public” one and a “private” one. Compare and contrast the public and private identities of the following characters: Lucy, Leon, Yolanda, Nate, and Mrs. Morgan. Either individually or as a group, make lists of each character‘s “public” and “private“ qualities. Which character’s two “sides” are the most different?
(4) Essay topic: If you were a house, describe what would you look like, and why?