February 14, 2015

A Cybils Bookmark: THE LIVING, by MATT DE LA PEÑA

This book is The Winner of the 2015 Cybils Award in YA Speculative Fiction.

This year I was a finalist judge, and I know how this book was both enjoyed - and gave us nightmares. Please visit The Cybils page for more reveals on winners and additional information on other categories. We hope you'll pick up this Cybil nominee, read, and enjoy!

I'm not a great traveler, I'll admit. When I get on an airplane, I've been known to look around and wonder if it's with these people that I will die... yeah, I generally try and not say that out loud, but you know how it goes.

I come by my travel paranoia honestly. Many, many years ago, when an older family friend turned fifty, I was inveigled into going on an Alaskan cruise. I was not all that enthused. But, it will be fun, they said. It won't matter that you're the youngest people on board with the exception of the staff college students, they said. You can use the gym 24 hours a day and watch movies anytime in a theater, they said, or visit a chocolate fountain at midnight, they said. Oh, indeed, the 'theys' were right. I could do all of those things, if the water had been calm and we hadn't hit stormy weather. At the beginning, when it wasn't storming, though, it was creepy to be served and greeted respectfully - as if I were Somebody. It was dismaying to see the upturned kayak floating by empty. We were horrified by the ship's refusal to stop, and how long it took them to lower a rescue boat -- and I won't even get into the worst of it -- the sort of manic Titanic glamor of the dinner parties despite the churning seas, and the snap of bone we heard from the hip of the elderly passenger who fell on that hard marble floor in the fancy dining room. (If you swooned a bit, reading that sentence, imagine living it. And, no, they didn't turn back to the harbor we were less than a day out from. The show must go on, after all. Cheers!)

So, you'll understand me when I say I HATE travel conveyances, LOATHE cruise ships, and would have to be marched aboard one at near gunpoint, and can easily conceive ALL KINDS OF EVIL SHENANIGANS going on aboard one, and news reports from the past couple of years would back me up, right? Which means I was in a perfect frame of mind to read Matt de la Peña's THE LIVING.

Summary: Border-born Shy just took this job to make money, that's it. Since he was small, he's been Mami's little man, helping out, and since his grandmother's death from the horrific virus that struck Otay Mesa, the tiny town near San Diego where he's from, Shy's been doing all he can to make sure the rest of them keep their heads above water. While others on the cruise ship work there for reasons of their own, Shy's buddy, Carmen, knows the drill - she's from a town like his. And, though she's engaged to a lawyer and all, Shy can't help but keep his eyes on her. He's only looking - and he's working on a cruise ship, right? Girls, bikinis, sun - can't blame a guy for looking, and everybody's doing it. Unfortunately, the Universe has more in mind for the group than luxury treatment and harmless fun in the sun. First, there's a suicide, with Shy left trying to figure out what happened. Then, there's a earthquake - the Big One. And every day after that is a chain of circumstances and a series of disasters which challenge the survival skills of those left standing. Shy - a loyal friend and a big-hearted guy - must open his eyes and see the world around him for what it is. Only those left standing will be able to tell the truth -- and all secrets lie untold in the grave. The fight for survival is on.

Conclusion: Readers will want to know beforehand that this is a first book in a series, however, this doesn't stop this work from being enjoyed on its own. THE LIVING is an award-winning work - with a 2014 Pura Belpre Honor book, ALA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2014 ALSC Notable Children’s Book, and a Junior Library Guild Selection notation; a starred review from Kirkus, Shelf Awareness, and Voya and listed in The Latinidad List as a Best Young Adult Novel, as well as the 2015 Texas Tayshas Reading List, this book showcases the author's tendency toward themes of class and identity with a realistic plot to create a disturbing and vivid thriller.

According to Entertainment Weekly, “The Living seamlessly incorporates his trademarks (racial identity, class, street slang) into a lightning-paced page-turner…De la Peña has created a rare thing: a plot-driven YA with characters worthy of a John Green novel.” While I agree with the solid gold of the author's chosen themes, I'd like to register my outraged frothing at that bit of negligible stupidity referencing both the rarity of plot-driven YA of worth, and comparisons of every darned thing with the work of John Green. Thank you.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of at the public library. You can find THE LIVING by Matt de la Peña at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

1 comment:

Sarah Stevenson said...

Yep, this was a really good one, and very shudder-worthy!

Also, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has horribly morbid thoughts when I get on a plane. Generally, I only have flight anxiety, although after reading this, cruise ship anxiety sort of waved its hand and said hello.... (I've never been on a cruise ship, but it could happen....)