I don’t “review” books in general, but when I read one that is worth telling everyone about I’m happy to give a shout-out. “The Living” by Matt de la Pena is most definitely one of those books. It is probably worth mentioning that I am not the target audience for this book, and it is not the type of book I normally choose to read. Matt sold me on himself, as a person, first, and that intrigued me to read something he wrote.
I ran across Matt de la Pena for the first time at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Missouri a few weeks ago. He was one of the keynote speakers. I had a manuscript critique scheduled at the same time (with his editor, interestingly enough), so I missed the first half of the talk. When I came back into the conference room, the whole place was laughing and fully engaged. That’s something unusual to find after the long morning they had already been through and right after lunch. It didn’t take me long to figure out why they were so entertained. He was interesting to listen to and told his stories in a delightful and humorous way. I knew I would have to check out his books right away.
The first few books Matt has written are YA stories focused on inner-city and low income kids facing challenges in their own communities. I love the fact that those books are out there, but I wasn’t sure how much I could connect with them–being near 50 and about as WASPy as one can get. But his new book, “The Living,” stepped outside of that and put his characters in a world I could relate to. Some of the language and phrasing threw me off a bit at first, but I got used to it quickly and just got lost in the story. It’s hard to say much of anything without giving away the fun of being shocked by events as they unfold. Let’s just say that I’m already terrified of cruise ships, and this story basically confirmed all my worst nightmares about what would happen if I ever set foot on one (except the part where I have to decide which of my daughters to save). The main character, Shy, is on edge and put through the wringer with literally end-of-the-world events and conspiracies. I anticipated some of the problems before they were revealed (not that this is a bad thing, to feel a step ahead of the characters), but I’m not so sure a YA audience would see some of it coming. Super fun!
I loved this book from beginning to end. Well, almost. I was highly disappointed in the ending because it didn’t actually end! And that’s the way any good writer should leave you feeling when there is another book to come. There’s a writer’s joke that you should chase your main character up a tree and then throw rocks at him for a while before you let him down. Poor Shy spends pretty much all of the story up that proverbial tree with huge boulders being flung at him. At the end, he’s up a different tree and you can only imagine that there are cannons aimed in his direction. I can’t wait to see how it all works out! The sequel, “The Hunted,” comes out until the fall of 2014.
What has been really fun is to tweet with Matt de la Pena along the way. Every time I have tweeted something about it, he has been quick to respond. That made the journey even more fun (@mattdelapena). I even have a new word (blanquita) to impress my daughter’s Venezuelan boyfriend at Thanksgiving. They never taught me that one in high school Spanish. Maybe he can explain the deep meaning of “Sancho” to me as well.
I highly recommend this book for YA readers, especially boys who have limited choices that don’t involve vampires or blood and guts. There is just enough boy/girl stuff to keep it interesting, but not so much that you couldn’t have it available in a classroom or school library.
Click here for the link to read about and purchase “The Living at amazon.com.