An Un-Calibrated Centrifuge

My dad once said to me, "You give a lot of books three stars." I do.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Living

The Living - Matt de la Pena

I should have liveblogged this episode this book. Here are some of my notes from when I was reading The Living.

 

  • San Diego boy folding his pizza (folding pizza always reads as New York to me)
  • Subtle Australian accent (is there such a thing?)
  • Females (don't use this as a noun, use girls or women instead)
  • Real shave ice on the north shore (pretty sure this is referencing Matsumoto's and Waiola's is much better. I went to Matsumoto's once and their shave ice tastes like betrayal)
  • The word racist is used to describe racism (LOVE, and it's used again later in the story)
  • "black thong that was barely any material" (I don't know of any thongs that contain a lot of material... I love male authors writing about "women things." I read a short story in a class once by a guy writing a female character who was very conscious of the way her breasts moved with her body... no woman thinks like this)
  • The eye of the storm would be calm (not cause for alarms?)
  • The 405 Freeway (I've accepted that people from southern California (wrongly) put 'the' in front of all their freeways, but no one specifies that they're talking about a free way. You don't say '101 freeway.' You just say 101. Everyone knows you're talking about the freeway.)
  • The phrase "you people" (in any context) needs to die already.

 

OK, most of that probably didn't make any sense if you didn't read the book. Basically, there were a few small details that pulled me out of the story, but there was nothing that made me ever consider quitting the book.

 

I did find myself questioning a lot of what was happening throughout the story though. Like, Shy (I kept reading his name as 'she') and Addie are in the boat for five days which is a long time, but it feels a lot longer. I'm not sure how skinny one would get after five days of no food and water. Enough for someone to notice and comment on? And how sunburned are they? Because they both bathe no problem, but if they're super sunburned would they really be using soap (using soap = friction of some kind on your skin)? There's a ton of glass on the ship that gets broken but Shy walks all around with only one shoe and never seems to cut his foot? Was all the glass washed away? Do sharks really behave that way? So many questions.

 

One question I had I was able to answer. I don't think Shy would have been alive during any big earthquakes (assuming he's ~18 and the story is set the year the book was published he would have just missed the Northridge quake). I had to skip a huge chunk of the book when the earthquake damage was being described and when the cruise ship sank. It is so so graphic, I just gave up reading anything that was happening and skipped ahead to where everyone was in the ocean.

 

I've read a few books like The Living. It reminded me of Life as We Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer (disaster fiction), The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu (manufactured diseases), The Hunt trilogy by Andrew Fukuda (really graphic descriptions).

 

It doesn't feel derivative, but it didn't exactly feel fresh either. I really liked the characters, but I don't like the hints at a love triangle and that Carmen wasn't allowed to cry at the end. Sure, she's a tough girl, but she's been through hell the last week. Let her cry a little bit. My annoyance at this scene was exacerbated by the fact that the white girl faints and has to be taken care of in the scene before but Carmen can't shed a few tears what's up with that? The whole thing read as the Strong Independent Woman (of color) stereotype. 

 

I also wasn't certain about the Texas oilman's story. I never connected with him (and I 100% did not feel bad about his getting stood up). I hope his story is setting up something for the next book otherwise it feels like his development (I use the term loosely) was a waste of time.

 

I don't know if this is going to be a trilogy. At the very least it's getting a sequel. I'm not sure it was a hugely successful first installment (going by the Star Wars test). What was the Death Star? Probably the Romero's Disease reveal, but I knew that was coming from the beginning (it's a pretty obvious plot), so it didn't necessarily have the impact that the Death Star should.

 

The Living did keep me reading though. Even though I found the twists predictable, I was invested in the characters and wanted to see what was going to happen to them. I definitely love the diversity in the book and that we have four PoC (only one WoC though) headed off into an adventure in the next book (I'm hoping for more Shoeshine and more female characters in The Hunted).

 

I also love that de la Peña tackles issues like classism and racism head on. Characters explicitly talk about the exploitation of the poor (and how it personally affects them) and racism is called racism, like the word racist is used at least twice in the book. All of that was really refreshing and not an insignificant part of why I kept reading. I like these characters and the writing enough that I'll check out the sequel when its published in May.