Matt de la Peña offers a nonstop adventure with THE LIVING, a medical thriller that's also a compelling survival story.
First of all, a public service announcement: when I read Matt de la Peña's new novel THE LIVING, I didn't realize that it has a sequel, THE FORGOTTEN, set to be released in the fall of 2014. So if you're like me and spend the better part of a weekend devouring this addictive adventure, don’t be like me and toss the book aside in frustration at the end because so few loose ends are tied up. You've been warned.
Because THE LIVING is really addictive, the kind of novel you can immediately imagine being adapted into a blockbuster action movie. It’s got a little of everything: disasters, survival, betrayal, mysteries and even a love triangle. And it's all told in the context of a discussion of race and class, which enriches all of the above without ever becoming preachy.
"Exciting, unexpected, and thoughtful, THE LIVING draws from a broad array of genres and will appeal to an equally wide range of readers."
Shy's summer job working for a cruise line starts off with tragedy right away, as, during his very first voyage, he becomes the last person a man speaks to before committing suicide by jumping overboard. Weeks later, Shy is still haunted by the man's cryptic words, particularly when other people start asking him questions about it. Shy didn't sign up for this kind of intrigue; he took the job in the first place to escape heartbreak at home, where his grandmother has recently succumbed to the mysterious and horrific Romero disease.
Soon, though, it’s apparent that the cruise ship job will hardly be as easy or glamorous as Shy originally envisioned. Sure, the other employees are easy on the eyes, and they have plenty of fun after hours. But when a mega earthquake strikes California (where Shy's family lives), and when that disaster spawns a tsunami that threatens the ship, Shy is launched on a different sort of voyage altogether,
Accompanying Shy as he fights for survival is Addison --- a rich, spoiled, blonde girl whose background couldn’t be farther from Shy's. What's more, her father may have an ominous connection to the man who committed suicide and perhaps an even more sinister connection to Shy's family. But as the two of them spend time together whether they like it or not, both begin to confront their own prejudices.
These kinds of social issues not only inform the novel's themes; they are at the very center of the exciting plot. Although some answers are provided in this first volume (and some will be guessed early by astute readers), everyone will be eager to see where the next leg in Shy's journey takes him, as he stands poised to find out what exactly has happened on the mainland in the wake of the Big One. Exciting, unexpected, and thoughtful, THE LIVING draws from a broad array of genres and will appeal to an equally wide range of readers.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 17, 2013