Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1108

Author: Matt de la Peña (b. 1974)

First published: 2013

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of plot: Present

Locales: San Diego, California; Pacific Ocean

Principal characters

Shy Espinoza, a teenager who works on a cruise ship

Carmen , his friend and romantic interest on the...

(The entire section contains 1108 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your subscription to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Start your Subscription

Author: Matt de la Peña (b. 1974)

First published: 2013

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of plot: Present

Locales: San Diego, California; Pacific Ocean

Principal characters

Shy Espinoza, a teenager who works on a cruise ship

Carmen, his friend and romantic interest on the ship

Rodney, his roommate and friend

Marcus, his friend, a radio expert

Addison “Addie” Miller, a snotty passenger on the ship

Shoeshine, a mysterious man on the ship

Bill, a security member of LasoTech

The Story

When Shy Espinoza takes a job with a cruise ship, he expects to have a summer adventure while making some extra money for his family. He does not expect the adventure to be as life changing as it will be. It starts on his first cruise when a passenger commits suicide after having a brief, strange conversation with Shy. Then Shoeshine, a mysterious man in a black suit, starts following Shy and asking him questions about what the dead man said before dying. Odd things continue to happen, such as several passengers mentioning hidden islands, but nothing seems too problematic until Shy's mother calls and tells him that his nephew, Miguel, has contracted Romero disease, a disorder that had killed his grandmother and his friend Carmen's father. Courtesy of Ember

Matt de la Peña.

Courtesy of Heather Waraksa

Then a storm at sea threatens the ship. While passengers and crew are gathered in one of the ship's theaters, the captain announces that a series of earthquakes has hit the California coast, devastating the state. News footage shows an area that looks like it has been hit by a world-ending bomb. Shy and Carmen, who is from the same area where his family lives, are terrified for their loved ones. If that were not bad enough, a series of tsunami waves, caused by the earthquakes, hits and sinks the cruise ship. Shy survives, but he is injured and alone in a leaky lifeboat. He soon encounters one of the life rafts and takes on two additional passengers after watching one of his friends from the ship being attacked by sharks and dying. The new passengers are Addison Miller, a wealthy white girl who was snotty to him on the ship, and Mr. Henry, a seemingly racist oilman. Surviving on a damaged lifeboat with these very different people teaches all three the real meaning of friendship.

Though Mr. Henry does not make it, Shy and Addie are eventually rescued, just at the point when they have given up. Shoeshine finds them and takes them to the mysterious hidden island owned by LasoTech, the company Addie's father owns, where a group of survivors from the cruise have gathered. Here, Shy finds that Carmen is alive, but Addie still cannot find her father. Shy's friend Rodney is also there, but many of the people have contracted an illness, and he is among the sick. The good news is that a research ship has arrived at the island and has agreed to take the castaways home. Shy soon learns that Rodney is dead, however, and the other sick people on the island have Romero disease. Furthermore, LasoTech is responsible for creating and disseminating the disease, and the rescue team is actually a group of mercenaries hired to remove the witnesses. Shy, Carmen, Marcus, and Shoeshine escape, and de la Peña leaves the end open to be continued in a second book.

Critical Evaluation

The Living proceeds chronologically, starting with an event that changes Shy's life: the suicide of David Williamson, a passenger on the cruise ship. Before plunging into the ocean, Williams says to Shy, "Remember this cowardly face. It's what corruption looks like. This is the face of your betrayer. Me, David Williamson. Don't you ever forget that! It's all in the letter I left in the cave." Shy does not understand what Williamson is talking about. Following the suicide, his life continues to get complicated: he endangers an important friendship; he learns his young nephew has Romero disease; a storm approaches; he learns that California has been struck by "the Big One"; and the ship, hit by tsunami waves, sinks.

Shy survives, but his experiences on a damaged lifeboat with two unlikely new friends are challenging, and he almost dies. Although Shy and his new friends are rescued from the lifeboat, the devastation continues as he discovers the origin of Romero disease and watches as almost all the surviving passengers are murdered in front of his eyes. Just when readers think Shy might be in a better place, de la Peña throws another tragedy his way. The action is packed with fast moving events that all lead to a shocking conclusion, and the author drops foreshadowing clues throughout keep a suspenseful focus. The novel ends with a cliffhanger that is concluded in a second book, The Hunted (2015).

The Living is not just an adventure story; it also confronts issues that teenagers deal with in everyday life, including racism and classism. For instance, early in the story, Shy and his friend Carmen are talking with a wealthy older white passenger, and the man bluntly asks Carmen where she is from. When she responds, "I'm from San Diego, sir," he clarifies his question: "Originally, I mean. What race are you?" Shy also experiences insensitivity from many of the passengers who treat him poorly because he is a staff member. Addison is one of the worst, and the first time Shy speaks to her she acts like a spoiled brat. His experiences with many of the wealthy people on the ship, along with his family's struggles at home, lead him to a point where he "start[s] to understand that some people's lives mattered more than others." As the story draws to a climax, Shy learns how true that really is. Even worse, he discovers that Romero disease was created in a lab, and its first intentionally infected victims were poor Latinos.

Further Reading

  • Finnegan, Stephanie. "Matt de la Peña." Critical Survey of Young Adult Literature, edited by Amy Pattee, Salem Press / Grey House Publishing, 2016. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=122746243&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.
  • Kraus, Daniel. Review of The Living, by Matt de la Peña. Booklist, 1 Sept. 2013, pp. 114–115. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=90156905&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.
  • Review of The Living, by Matt de la Peña. Kirkus Reviews, 1 Oct. 2013, p. 124. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=90554058&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.
Illustration of PDF document

Download The Living Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Themes