The Living


Author: Matt de la Peña

Publication: 2013, Delacorte Press

Pages: 308

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Shy takes a summer job on a luxury cruise ship to make some extra money for his family. But when a massive earthquake rocks the west coast, it sets of a chain of events that sends his ship to the bottom of the ocean. Shy finds himself stranded in a busted lifeboat, and his only companion is a rich blond snob who just happens to be the last girl on earth he wants to hang out with. But they’ll have to get along if they want to survive. Because Shy’s about to learn that getting lost at sea is only the start of his problems.  

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Shy and his friend Carmen are incredibly rich characters. By the time the action starts heating up we can’t help but be deeply invested in what happens to them. Shy’s love for his friends and family – people for whom he seems willing to sacrifice anything – really drove the story forward.

From early on, it’s also clear that this is going to be more than just a traditional survival story. In the first chapter Shy tries to rescue a passenger who jumps overboard, and the consequences of that action continue to ripple through the book, adding an extra layer of danger and uncertainty to what’s already a harrowing struggle for survival. Even once Shy is finally rescued, you know the story is far from over.

What I Liked the Least: This is a minor complaint, but early in the story there are simply too many characters we’re supposed to care about. Shy and Carmen might be drawn out in rich, beautiful detail, but there are quite a few crew members we only see in passing. And yet, when the ship goes down – and later again after Shy’s rescue – we continue to run into them with the expectation we should care about them almost as much as we care about Shy. Frankly, that didn’t work. De la Peña might have been better off giving Shy less friends to care about in the first place.

And while Shy is largely responsible for his own survival during the storm and the struggle to find land, he’s ultimately rescued by a mysterious adult – one who rescues him again multiple times later in the book. While this adult’s involvement didn’t make the story any less tense or powerful, I always prefer it when the main character – or the main character and their teen friends – are able to rescue themselves. Having a highly skilled adult on hand feels like a bit of a cop-out.

How Good was the Action? Intense. When the ship goes down, it feels as if the pages are soaked in fear, violence, and uncertainty. The confusion of the passengers, the realization that they’re about to go under, the brutal power of the storm, the sheer terror as lifeboats crash into the sea, and the unstoppable adrenaline rush as Shy finds himself face-to-face with a monster tsunami. The days of survival – hunger, thirst, sharks – might not be quite as action-packed as the storm itself, but they’re still brimming with fear, regret, and tension. And while the story enters a brief respite after their rescue, the action soon kicks in again, revving right back up to the intensity we felt at the height of the storm. Awesome.

How Engaging was the Story? As I said, de la Peña drilled deep to create a rich cast of characters you can’t help but get invested in. I was drawn to Shy right from the start, and his relationship with Carmen, the uncertain fate of his family, and aftermath of his failed attempt to save the man who went overboard keep the story humming along quite nicely until the storm hits. From there, the action takes over, finally dropping Shy and rich girl Addie into a broken lifeboat. And once again character jumps to the fore. De la Peña does a masterful job with their tempestuous relationship and the bleakness of their situation as they slowly succumb to thirst, hunger, and utter hopelessness. It’s powerful stuff.

Overall Assessment: A riveting survival story, filled with rich characters and a disaster of epic proportions. But best of all, the survival story is only the beginning. Once Shy is rescued, the real danger begins. I loved that touch.

Profanity: Yes. It’s pretty widespread and encompasses most of the normal curses you’d expect to find.

Sex: There’s a fair bit of fantasizing and some fairly intense kissing. Shy checks out a lot of girls and at one point he catches sight of a girl as she’s undressing.

Violence: Naturally. This is a disaster story and a lot of people die – some quite graphically. People get crushed, they drown, they get eaten by sharks, and some even get shot, and while de la Peña doesn’t go out of his way to make the story more gory than necessary, he doesn’t shy away from blood either.


  1. Gordon Rottman says:

    This review sold me on the book and its entering my to read stack.

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