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The Living: Matt De La Peña

Book: The Living
Author: Matt De La Peña
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

The Living by Matt De La Peña has it all. It's a high stakes survival drama, with a mysterious conspiracy, containing the seeds of a possible apocalypse. There are also teen interactions that include racial and socioeconomic conflicts. I read The Living in less than a day, simply unable to stop, regardless of what was going on around me. And as soon as I closed the book I said to my husband "You have GOT to read this" (something I reserve for only a select few titles each year). 

The Living is told from the limited third person perspective of Shy, a half Mexican teen from a small California town near the border of Mexico. Shy is spending the summer before his senior year working on a luxury cruise ship (setting out deck chairs, handing out towels, etc.). Shy is in mourning for his Grandma, who died recently and suddenly from an illness called Romero's Disease. He is also reeling from his unsuccessful attempt to stop a passenger from committing suicide, an incident related in the prologue.

As his next 8-day voyage begins, Shy learns that a mysterious man in a black suit is asking questions about him. He also gets worrying news from his family at home. And he's confused by his interactions with beautiful and slightly older fellow staff member Carmen, who has a finace. All of these concerns fade into the background, however, in the face of a natural disaster that leaves Shy fighting for his life. 

Shy is a solid character. He lives with his mother, older sister, and nephew (Grandma lived with them, too). The family members are close, but struggle financially. Shy is good-looking and plays for his high school basketball team, and he's not inexperienced with girls, but Carmen knocks him off balance. On the cruise ship he encounters racism and rudeness from the wealthy passengers, and starts to develop an understanding of the socioeconomic chasm in front of him. But this is all reasonably understated - he's also a teen boy who likes girls, worries about his family, and tries to do the right thing. 

There is some kissing/making out in The Living, though no on-screen sex. There is also quite a lot of death, and some gore. But no more so than in many apocalyptic type novels (and less gore than some). I wouldn't hesitate to give this to anyone who was able to handle The Hunger Games series.  

De La Peña's plotting is tight and fast-paced. Short chapters help keep readers turning the pages, and make The Living a good choice for reluctant readers. The action really flows starting mid-way through the book, and then rarely lets up. The Living is not a book to start when you only have a few minutes to read. This is a book to save for when you have a free afternoon, and can devour the whole thing. 

Here's a snippet to give you a feel for De La Peña's writing:

"In the morning the sea had been perfectly calm and beautiful, like a postcard. Now it was a thousand hostile waves crested in white foam and crashing into one another. The massive ship moaned as it pitched and surged under Shy's shell tops--the bow bucking slowly into the air and then falling, bucking and then falling. Thick black clouds hung so low in the sky it felt like the ship was traveling through a rain tunnel." (Page 88)

There is definitely a cinematic flavor to The Living, helped out by the deluxe cruise ship setting, and the acknowledged fact that the young crew members are chosen for their good looks (this point felt a bit overdone for me, but it is true to the survival story genre). The Living would make a great movie, though I think it would be expensive to film due to required special effects. It ends with many threads left dangling, and I am eager for the next book, The Hunted, due out in fall of 2014. Highly recommended for teens and adults. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook