The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

"The Living" - Matt de la Pena 

A couple of things to know about Matt de la Pena's terrific new book “The Living” right off the bat – one, it's a YA book, so it's a quick read and not ultra-gory, plus of course there is the inevitable YA romantic component – second, it's the first in a planned trilogy (as so many YA books seem to be these days) so if you like a nice, tidy ending, you may find yourself frustrated.  

OK, still with me?  Great – then let me tell you how much I think you'll enjoy “The Living”.  Aside from the awesome cover, there is plenty going on inside this slim book.  The star of the show here is 17-year-old Shy Espinoza, a half-Mexican kid from a disadvantaged area of San Diego, who is working on a cruise ship as a towel/water boy to make money and help his family.  The book kicks off with a prologue - Shy just six days into his first voyage with Paradise Cruise Lines.  He is handing out water bottles one evening on the Honeymoon Deck when a nondescript middle-aged man steps out of the Luxury Lounge.  The man starts confiding in Shy, though none of what he says seems to make much sense (lots of “I'm to blame” and “remember this cowardly face”) before he climbs the rail and drops into the dark ocean below, despite Shy's attempts to hang onto him.

Cut to the real beginning of the book, intriguingly labeled “Day 1” (side note, do you love stories that take place over just a few days like I do?  Oh good, I was hoping you'd say that!).  On Day 1, Shy is on his second voyage, bound for Hawaii, and he's having trouble shaking memories of the man who slipped through his fingers.  Distraction comes in the welcome form of his crew friends, including loveable lug of a roommate Rodney and Shy's crush Carmen, a beautiful and amiable girl who happens to also be half-Mexican.  Although she has a fiance back on land, she and Shy engage in the sort of mostly harmless flirting that I'm sure takes place plenty on a cruise ship (or hell, on land for that matter).  Shy's memories of the man plunging to his death are not assuaged by the realization that there is a mysterious black-suited man on this journey who seems to be popping up wherever Shy is on the ship.  Why is he there and what does he want with Shy?

Day 2 arrives and Shy is no closer to finding out what the man wants.  He does meet a new passenger of interest, however, a thin blonde preppy girl named Addison, whose father invites Shy (despite Addison's obvious embarrassment) to join them for dinner later that week when he gets back from work.  It seems there is someplace nearby called “The Hidden Islands” and Addison's dad will be making a stop there before helicoptering back to the cruise ship.  Shy never gets the chance to take him up on the invite though, as Day 2 proves to be a highly eventful one.  

Shy gets a Skype call from his mom, who lets him know that his young nephew has tested positive for the same disease that recently took his grandma – the Romero Disease (how great is that?) which seems to be spreading unchecked through some of the lower-income populations.  After that call, things go from bad to worse when all passengers are ordered inside in advance of a dramatic impending storm.  And then all passengers and crew are ordered to grab life jackets and meet at their specific stations.......and then there's an announcement by the captain that an enormous earthquake has rocked California, east of Los Angeles with effects reaching into Mexico...........and THEN a massive wall of water approaches the ship, as passengers and crew crowd the windows to get one last look......

And things pick up from there, with an outstanding sequence detailing the aftereffects of the Perfect Storm-type wave and the cruise ship's inability to get over it in time.  Windows break, bodies are strewn about, Shy is in and out of consciousness, lifeboats and rafts are up and down, and basically it was all super-cinematic action that I am looking forward to seeing on the big screen eventually.  

Day 3 dawns with Shy in the lifeboat (and there's no spoiler alert here, I was pretty sure Shy would make it to the end of the book) where he eventually hooks up with a couple of other survivors, including the aforementioned preppy rich blonde, Addison, who proves to be made of stronger mettle than Shy would have predicted.  Although there's some dreamy crush stuff here, there is mostly sharks and starvation and a man with a ripped leg muscle and water all around – sort of a bizzarro “Life of Pi” interlude.   There's the discovery on Day 5 of a boat with two dead guys on it, and the predictable yet welcome arrival at the Hidden Islands some days later.  The Hidden Islands aren't as peaceful as they appear and Shy and his friends discover some dark and horrible secrets there that I found all too believable.  

Although there is a lot of ambitious genre-mashup going on here, I thought de la Pena had a unique way of blending the ingredients.  I found much to love about “The Living” and I will be eagerly looking forward to the follow-up, “The Hunted”, slated to come out later this year.

Hardcover Honey Verdict: 3.5 on a 5 pt Richter scale for this fun yarn!