The Living by Matt de la Pena
This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library Davis branch.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all.
But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.
The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it’s a fight to survive for those left living.”
I picked up this book because I was offered an advance copy of the sequel and thought that the premise sounded kind of interesting. A bit of searching in my local library, and I was heading home with a copy. After finishing it, I can honestly say that it was worth the read, but wasn’t something that I was jumping up and down about.
I think what threw me the most is the same thing that I see other reviewers pointing out: the novel changes tones drastically more than once. In my personal opinion, though, it’s the opening sections that throw off the rest of book. I’m extremely glad to see a main character who is a POC, since that’s still not all that common. What I noticed in tandem with this is that the author seemed to have felt the need to try to force the notion that Shy is a cool streetwise kid who is, if not from the wrong side of the tracks, at least within a few streets of it. It makes those early sections sound a little odd. However, I’ve also seen people pointing out that it’s a good representation of how a kid like him might sound, so your mileage may vary.
Once the actual disaster portion of the novel starts, that tone is abandoned altogether, which is why I said that it throws off the rest of the book–it messes with your expectations and then goes completely against them. But this section of the book is the one that I liked the most. It’s reminiscent of The Poseidon Adventure and other purely action-oriented shipwreck stories. Massive tidal waves, bodies thrown all over the place, scrambles for lifeboats, heroism and defeat–this part of the book has it all.
Things slow down again when Shy is trapped in a lifeboat for several days, and then the pace picks back up when he reaches an island and discovers sinister conspiracies brewing. Underlying all of this is the threat of a mysterious disease that is decimating the mainland United States and may even be on the island. It’s a lot to fit into one novel, and I think it would have worked better if Pena hadn’t changed the tone so many times.
There were enough enjoyable parts to the novel that I’d recommend it if you’re looking for the book equivalent of a disaster flick. And now I’m curious to see how the sequel plays out.