The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
is a 2009 novel by American author Francisco X. Stork. Set in New Mexico, it follows teenager Pancho Sanchez who escapes an orphanage to avenge his sister’s death. Along the way, he connects with a fellow orphan, D.Q., who is dying of cancer. As D.Q. undergoes brutal chemotherapy treatments, he works on a text called “The Death Warrior Manifesto.” D.Q.’s refusal to die without first choosing the terms of death inspires Sanchez to question his purpose in life and reconsider his own core reasons for continuing on. A bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
shows how people can mature and inspire each other through the process of self-examination.
At the beginning of the novel, Pancho is taken from his childhood home to be transported to St. Anthony’s, an all-male orphanage. Both his father and sister, Rosa, have recently died, and he is now in the care of the state of New Mexico. After their father died, Rosa was the only remaining adult in the family. However, several weeks ago, she was discovered dead in a motel near their town. The police and autopsy report both concluded that she died accidentally. Pancho is certain that their conclusion is incorrect. The report described evidence of alcohol in Rosa’s bloodstream and of sexual activity shortly before her death. Because Rosa had a life-threatening allergy to alcohol as well as a significant mental disability, Pancho knows that someone manipulated her into the motel room situation. Because no one will listen to him, Pancho decides to track down and kill the man who murdered his sister.
Pancho arrives to St. Anthony’s certain that he will not stay for long before going about his quest. Upon moving in, he meets D.Q., a boy dying from cancer with no remaining family to support him. To undergo aggressive cancer treatment, D.Q. is moved to a hospital in Albuquerque. Because Pancho thinks that Rosa’s murderer lives in Albuquerque, he volunteers to travel with him. Pancho brings $200 and obtains a revolver before making it to Albuquerque. Once there, he drops D.Q. at the hospital and starts to look for Rosa’s boyfriend, a man he believes is named Robert Lewis. In the meantime, Pancho and D.Q. get to know each other, though Pancho is reluctant to grow close to someone with a death sentence. D.Q. shows Pancho a book he is working on, titled “The Death Warrior Manifesto.” The book contains a stream-of-consciousness account of all of the emotions and insights D.Q. has in what is probably his final months alive. The manifesto asserts that everyone, regardless of the stage of life, should fight as if his or her life is already at stake, relishing each second of happiness and fully seeking out love.
D.Q. finishes his treatment and is relocated to a rehabilitation clinic called Casa Esperanza. There, he finds Marisol, a nurse he fell in love with at a previous clinic. Against his initial interests, Pancho’s friendship with D.Q. grows deep. He does everything he can to help reduce D.Q.’s intense suffering as he continues cancer therapy. His blossoming friendship with D.Q. and his good-natured attitude towards the clinic patients connects him to other people suffering from cancer and to Marisol. Before he knows it, Pancho falls in love with her.
Just weeks into D.Q.’s rehabilitation, Pancho tracks down Robert Lewis to an address in the city. The intense pressure that has built up over avenging Rosa’s death comes to a head, and Pancho readies himself to take Robert’s life. When Robert is home, Pancho breaks in, holding him at gunpoint. Robert begs Pancho to spare him, sobbing that he truly loved Rosa and did not mean to kill her. Before Pancho commits the act, he remembers D.Q.’s insight about making the most of life given its brevity. Finding that he cannot cut his life short by killing Robert, he lets him go. At the end of the story, Marisol tells Pancho that she loves him; though at first, the news devastates D.Q., he accepts it and moves on. Looking forward to the adult world, Pancho hopes to emulate D.Q.’s vision of the life of a death warrior.