Written by: Matt de la Peña
Publication Information: 2013, Delacorte Books
One Line: Shy thinks he’s going to have the summer of his life working on a luxury cruise ship, but when a tsunami hits the boat, he is fighting for his very survival.
Brief Summary: 17-year-old Shy takes a job on a luxury cruise ship for the summer both to have fun and to help his family earn money. His beloved grandmother has just passed from the mysterious and horrible Romero Disease, and he is trying to forget. When he has an odd conversation with a wealthy gentleman, who then commits suicide right in front of him, forgetting is the last thing Shy can do. On the next voyage, he realizes he is being followed, and people keep asking him about the suicide. Why? What’s going on? Should he talk more about the conversation with the man or not? Meanwhile, he has feelings for the beautiful Carmen, who is engaged. Carmen comes from his area, and also lost someone to Romero Disease. The
Thoughts: Despite some flaws, The Living is an entertaining adventure thriller with science fiction elements thrown in. Narrator Shy, a Mexican-American who is very close to his family, is an appealing character, and de la Peña really seems to capture the natural language and mannerisms of all of his characters, especially Shy and Carmen. While Addie – a blonde, rich girl – is at first a little bit stereotypical (rude and racist), de la Peña eventually gives her more depth, perhaps indicating that Shy’s view of her was also one-dimensional. There are interesting issues at play in the book, as well, as it explores the lives of the wealthy vs. the poor, and the theme that it is very easy for the wealthy to take advantage of the poor. Despite being a page-turner, it is in the plot that the book struggles a bit. The mysterious Romero disease is not explained for some time, which caused me to spend time Googling it – perhaps it would have been a good idea to explain early in the story that it is a new disease popping up on the border of Mexico. It feels like there are a few too many coincidences. That the book is ultimately about a conspiracy, despite being billed as a survival story, is at first confusing, and because of all that’s going on (Shy being followed, the suicide, etc.) when the tsunami hits, the tsunami ends up feeling like a plot contrivance. The earthquake is described as being so big it seems unrealistic. When some truths come out at the end of the book, they are just told to our characters, who don’t have to hunt for them. In short, there is a lot going on in this book – perhaps too much. However, by the end of the book, it doesn’t really matter: once some of the contrivances and the realization that it’s not just a disaster novel are accepted, going along with the story is easy, and there is definitely a good cliffhanger that makes the sequel (coming out in fall 2014) an exciting idea.
Author Information: From www.mattdelapena.com: “Matt de la Peña is the author of five critically-acclaimed young adult novels: Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here, I Will Save You and The Living. He’s also the author of the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (illustrated by Kadir Nelson). Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific where he attended school on a full basketball scholarship. de la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn NY. He teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country.”