The Living

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Living Book Poster Image
Sympathetic characters anchor over-the-top disaster drama.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The tsunamis are linked to the massive earthquakes, and may inspire some interest in learning more about the threat of earthquakes along the western United States.

Positive Messages

When privilege and status are stripped away, people are much the same: looking for connection and something to hold onto.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shy makes a tremendous effort to rescue people aboard the doomed ship, including a man who threatened him, and to aid people in distress. He tries to be a good friend and, in times of crisis, lets go of past insults. Shoeshine materializes at key times to help Shy. Carmen is a solid friend who is working to keep sexual tension from complicating her relationship with Shy.

It's a disaster story, so the body count is necessarily high, much of the violence is decribed in detail. A man leaps off the cruise ship to his death in the opening scene. A man investigating the suicide hreatens Shy. News footage describes extensive devastation from a series of powerful earthquakes in the western United States, then several tsunamis sink the cruise ship. Shy witnesses scores of horrible injuries and gruesome deaths, including of familiar characters, as the boat sinks, in shark-infested waters, in sick rooms, and during a mass execution of innocent people. He shares a lifeboat with rotting bodies, finds the bodies of two murdered men, and has a gun held to his head. 

Shy likes to check out women, and routinely sizes up their appearance. He's especially focused on the body of his friend Carmen. He and Carmen kiss passionately. There's a suggestive scene with a young man and two women in a hot tub, and there are references to other characters ogling women, hooking up, and wet dreams.


The teen characters swear casually and constantly: "damn," "s--t," "ass," "pissed," "a--hole," "bitch," "f--k," "damn," "bastard," and "hell."


Jacuzzi, Subway, Skype, Game Boy, Gatorade, Telemundo, Kay Jewelers, iTunes, Windex, and the Raiders.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two underage characters get drunk on wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Living, by Matt de la Pena (Mexican Whiteboy), is the first installment of a violent, thrilling disaster tale. There's plenty of gruesome violence, a very high body count, and teen characters swear casually and constantly (including "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "f--k" ). The story emphasizes themes of racism and class conflict, and the wealthy characters generally behave with selfish entitlement. Given the bloody details and the pervasive strong language, we recommend this for ages 15 and up, a slightly older audience than the publisher suggests.


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAgarnmeister August 23, 2018
Teen, 17 years old Written byAngelica Sunrise December 17, 2019

Great read.

Quite a bit of violence, and death. There is a bit of kissing and making out, but there is no on screen sex. Over all I loved this book.

What's the story?

Shy Espinoza's excited to be working aboard a luxury cruise ship. He's found good friends, including a gorgeous girl he'd love to know better. And he's making enough cash to help his family, still reeling from the death of his grandmother from a mysterious new disease. One night, Shy fails to save a man who leaps overboard. Soon he's menaced by a strange man inquiring about the suicide. But that worry is swept away with news that earthquakes have destroyed the West Coast -- and then multiple tsunamis sink the cruise ship. Shy's adrift at sea, stuck with a rude rich girl who treated him with nothing but disdain back on the ship. They're rescued just as they've lost all hope -- but as Shy soon learns, they're still in great peril.


Is it any good?

If it weren't for the appeal of the central characters, THE LIVING might drown in plot clichés. It's a mash-up of Titanic, The Poseidon Adventure, and Lost with earthquakes, tsunamis, a pandemic, evil scientists, bloodthirsty sharks -- even a monologuing villain who blows his chance to do away with his victim. The result is an exciting page-turner with plenty of intrigue and romance to delight fans of disaster books. Shy's a typical kid from the border, good-hearted and devoted to family and friends. Carmen's a smart and fun sidekick.
Author Matt de la Pena has written poignantly on issues of race and class. Those themes now take a back seat to the action here, and when they're pushed to the front it's forced and cartoonish. The ongoing, unquestioned sexual attention given to women may be authentic to the mind of a teen boy, but it may leave a bitter aftertaste for some readers. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the race, class, and gender themes. How do the racial and class differences among passengers resonate with you? 
  • Why do we enjoy stories with such widespread destruction?

  • How does the disaster bring out the true nature of the characters, for better or worse?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventures and thrillers

Themes & Topics

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