When the reviews start rolling in, a book begins to feel like a real thing to me. It’s moving out into the world. Folks I don’t even know are turning the pages — it’s nerve wracking and exciting and alive.
Here are the first two reviews for The Living (thanks for the kind words Booklist and Kirkus!) . . .
THE LIVING (starred review)
Shy Espinoza’s summer job on a Hawaii-bound cruise ship has a lot going for it: decent pay, good tips, congenial crewmates and most of all, Carmen.
Both come from working-class Latino neighborhoods and have recently lost a loved one to Romero Disease, a fast-spreading pandemic. With a fiance on the mainland, Carmen won’t act on their mutual attraction. Shy’s haunted by his failure to prevent a wealthy passenger’s suicide and perplexed by the man’s mysterious last words. As Shy’s followed and questioned, his cabin ransacked, the mystery deepens. Soon, bigger problems loom on the horizon: A catastrophic earthquake has devastated the West Coast, generating a huge tsunami. Shy’s an appealing kid whose tough, impoverished upbringing has both limited his choices and shaped his character. His actions and emotions feel honest and earned, thereby lending authenticity and gravitas to the plot’s wilder leaps, deepening the narrative. Shy finds that focusing on work helps manage his fear. When he’s adrift on a leaky raft with Addie, a pretty passenger he’d dismissed as spoiled and shallow, their differences fade while their shared humanity gives them heart and hope. Disaster’s a powerful teacher, Shy’s adventures, the ultimate learning experience; it’s a harrowing, exhilarating ride right up to the cliffhanger ending. Relax: A sequel’s on the way.
An addictive page-turner and character-driven literary novel with broad appeal for fans of both. (Post-apocalyptic thriller. 14 & up)
Much of the fun of de la Peña’s latest is how unexpectedly he blends genres, making this, in a sense, four books in one: a finely observed social-class drama, an on-the-sea survival adventure, a global-disaster book, and a contagion thriller. So be warned: spoilers ahoy. Shy Espinoza is 11 days into his summer job on a luxury cruise line when “the Big One” hits California, hurling massive tsunamis into the ocean and tearing our contemporary romantic plotline to bits, as Shy and an unexpected companion are forced to survive in churning, shark-infested waters. The tsunami sequence is a straight-up tour de force, a breathless, horrifying dash into the void. The book’s final act—a conspiracy plot upon a mysterious island—is yet another narrative jolt. Can a book withstand this many resets? Mostly, yes, and that’s due to de la Peña’s narrative restraint and commitment to his unusually believable protagonist. Shy’s no superhero, and that’s a relief. What tonal bumps do exist may very well be smoothed out in the 2014 sequel—this story deserves a broader canvas.