The Living, by Matt de la Pena

Matt de la Peña's The Living has gotten a lot of praise for its supercharged premise, its sympathetic male protagonist, and the way it touches on class, wealth, and social injustice. Most of that praise is well deserved, and only one thing prevented me from wholeheartedly enjoying it: the discovery that this is actually the first book in a series, and (of course) nothing ever gets resolved in a first installment. Seriously, couldn't they have put a “Book One” on the cover somewhere, so I wouldn't have gotten my hopes up?

The Living is the story of teenage cruise ship employee Shy Espinoza, who is spending his summer handing out water bottles and fresh towels to wealthy, Hawaii-bound passengers. Shy is still struggling to come to terms with his grandmother's recent death from Romero Disease, a new and rapidly spreading pandemic, so the luxury liner job seems like the perfect escape—great tips, bikini-clad girls, free food. But when a massive earthquake hits California, destroying most of the United States' western coastline, Shy is left scrambling to survive a series of almost comically over-the-top disasters, ranging from sharks to tsunamis to evil scientists.

Setting aside my personal dislike of shameless cliffhangers, I can't help but feel splitting this story into a series was a mistake. If The Living had been told in a single installment, it might have achieved some of the nail-biting drama of a true survival epic (like a teen-friendly, non-fantasy take on Stephen King's The Stand), and provided an exciting alternative to the dystopian novels currently crowding bookshelves. As it is, dividing the story into 300-page-long chunks spaced a year apart gives readers far too much time to think about holes in the plot, and makes it feel more like an old fashioned, tie-someone-to-the-tracks serialized adventure story—enjoyable and exciting, but more than a little silly.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


No comments yet. Be the first!

No new comments are allowed on this post.