The Living, by Matt de la Peña

A girl cannot live on middle grade science fiction and fantasy alone, and so, despite the fact that there are still books I need to read (and re-read) for the Cybils, I treated myself to The Living, by Matt de la Peña....

Here's what I expected:  I knew (mainly from the EW review) that the main character, a Mexican American teenager named Shy, who had a summer job working on a luxury cruise ship, was going to end up on a life boat with a rich white babe, Addison.  And I knew that survival was going to be an Issue.  I assumed I was going to get a whole "let's dispel prejudice" love story along with my disaster...but I didn't know how Epic the disaster part was going to be, and how it would propel the story into the realm of speculative fiction...and I didn't know that the whole bit on the boat would be a relatively minor note in what proved to be a more character-rich, action-packed adventure than I had anticipated.

I figured it out pretty quickly though.  The Living may be a gripping page-turner, the sort of book one might read in a single sitting with dishes unwashed, suitcase unpacked, and general let the kids play in the traffic way, but subtle it is not.  Right at the beginning we learn about a horrible (mercifully fictional) disease, and it's hard for even a relatively dim reader like me not to think Pandemic! And when Shy, dispensing free water to the rich strolling the decks, hears the guilt-filled ramblings of man who's about to jump off the ship (and succeeds in making it to the water, despite Shy's efforts to pull him back), it's hard not to suspect that there are Bad Plot Things afoot. 

And then you have the whole major earthquake devastating the West Coast thing....and the concomitant tsunami hitting the cruise ship...and there's a nice sinking ship of doom bit before finally the reader (along with Shy and Addison) gets a bit of a breather from action and intrigue (though there is a bit of a shark issue) while almost dying of thirst, hunger, and exposure (with bonus overcoming prejudice, although I must say that Addison is such a racist little snot that such rehabilitation of her character as occurs is unbelievable).

But in any event, along the way we are introduced to a bevy of interesting characters (the death toll is high, so don't get too attached), and the characters reflect on class and race, and though one of them is  a Magical Negro type (the shoeshine man, who calls himself just Shoeshine), he clearly has lots of interesting backstory and rises above M. N. status.  Basically, it is all just as riveting as all get out, even though I totally guessed what was up on the Mysterious Island.

Short answer--it was great fun to read, and I still haven't packed (except for the books I'm taking with me).  And if the sequel comes out the week before I go away again, I probably won't pack then either.   Speaking of travel, if you yourself have packed, instead of reading The Living, and are flying in the next few days, it would make a really really good airplane book....cruise ship book, not so much.

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