Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Living by Matt de la Pena

Shy is spending the summer working on a cruise ship.  It seems like a pretty great job, until, on his second trip out, he witnesses a man jump to his death.  Now he's being followed and questioned, even though Shy knows nothing about the man.  Then an enormous earthquake hits California, followed by a tsunami, destroying the ship.

This is the first book in a series.  I hadn't read anything by Matt de la Pena before, even though Mexican Whiteboy has been on my "to read" list forever.

The Living mixes two dystopia/science fiction elements together: natural disaster and virus outbreak.  Before the massive earthquake, we learn that Shy's grandmother and Carmen's (another cruise worker who Shy has a thing for) father both died of Romero disease, a new illness that's spreading over the Mexican border into California.  It kills very quickly, if you aren't diagnosed right away.  After the earthquake, which is huge, off the Richter scale, levels much of the West Coast, the disease runs rampant.  And there's a TERRIBLE SECRET behind the disease, and it's linked to that man Shy saw jump from the ship.

Aside from the dystopian aspects of the book, which yeah, is the main focus, there's a lot in there about class differences.  Shy is all too aware of the difference between him and the people who pay to be on the cruise.  Are their lives worth more than his?  It doesn't seem so, especially after the ship is gone, and Shy is on a lifeboat with a rich girl, Addie who wasn't all that friendly to him before and clearly looked down on him.  But through their shared experience of suffering, they grow closer.

Shy and Addie end up on one of the Hidden Island that are contacted with the company the man who committed suicide worked for.  Shy is reunited with the other ship survivors, only to discover the horrifying truth about Romero disease.  Addie disappears, supposedly with her father, who works with this company, but I'm sure they'll be reunited in a later book.  Shy feels like she betrayed him, even though he's sure Addie couldn't have known what was really going on.

It was a gripping story and I enjoyed it.  A good pick for science fiction fans and fans of dystopia alike.

The Living comes out November 12, 2013.

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