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The Living by Matt de la Peña

And you thought cruise ships were fun.

Interests/Topics: survival, conspiracy, natural disasters, social justice, adventure

Curriculum Connections: English, Geography, Equity Studies, Science

Gender: M/F

Age: 14+

Blurb: When my feet hit solid ground on the morning of January 4th, 2008, I swore that I would never step foot on a cruise ship again. The first four days of the cruise had been wonderful: sunny skies, friendly people, fantastic food. I celebrated my birthday with frothy drinks by the pool, and partied away New Year’s Eve on the main deck with the rest of the passengers. The new year was looking exceptionally happy as we headed toward the Bahamas. Life was good.

Know what can move a 12-storey, solid steel, floating hotel? Waves. Really big waves. And when I say “move”, what I actually mean is rock, pitch, jolt, hammer, and pummel. For three days straight.

Know what’s (not) fun? Every single detail about being on a cruise ship in the middle of a tropical storm.

Shy, in The Living, enjoys working on a luxury liner: the tips are good, the weather is perfect, and the bikinis are non-stop. Plus, he’s made some pretty cool new friends including Carmen, the girl of his dreams. It’s a great way to spend the summer and help his mom out with the bills.

Or so he thought.

Know what can ruin a perfectly great job on a luxury liner? A jumper, followed by an investigation, followed by threats and intimidation, followed by…

…a tsunami.

See what I mean about cruise ships?

Flavour: “Carmen was the only female in their group. She was eighteen and half Mexican like Shy, from a town not far from Otay Mesa called National City. She hosted karaoke every night and sang in some of the shows. First time Shy met her, he could barely speak. She had to wave a hand all in front of his face, laughing, and ask Rodney if he was mute.” (23)

“Shy shook his head in frustration. ‘How many times do I have to explain this sh**?’ he said, facing Kevin. ‘I gave the guy a water. When he tried to jump I grabbed his arm, but he was too heavy. I couldn’t hold on. What else do they wanna hear?’…. All Shy wanted was a summer job before his senior year. And when his counselor brought up the connections she had with Paradise Cruise Lines, it sounded different, exotic. If he had it to do over again, though, he’d apply for something more normal instead. Like Subway or Big O Tires. No one tries to kill themselves while buying a set of damn Goodyears.” (28-29)

“A massive wall of water, almost twice the height of the ship and climbing still, and coming directly at them. It was clear they had no chance of making it over, but the ship continued plunging forward. Everyone at the windows was screaming, even men, and Shy realized he was screaming, too, and a heavy-set middle-aged man slumped to the ground holding his chest, and Shy’s entire body started to tingle and he lost all strength in his arms and legs and had to hold on to the window to stay standing as he stared at the cresting wave—this beyond all his understanding except it was the end of everything, and no person could change this fact, and no God, and the wave was directly in front of them now, and all Shy could see through the window was the roaring wall of ocean water.” (125)

“Something jostled Shy out of his sleep….The boat shook, like he’d run into something. A piece of the sunken ship or a person, maybe. Shy crouched and scanned the glistening ocean, looking for signs of life now that it was daylight. He saw faraway ship pieces. A deflated raft. Empty life jackets…. The lifeboat shook again, more violently this time. He leaned over the jagged edge, looked directly into the water, and his heart climbed up into his throat. There were five or six sharks circling beneath his sinking boat. Jaws partly open and full of teeth. Eyes black. He watched, horrified, as one of them broke from the pack, rose up and banged its snout into the bottom of his boat, knocking him on his ass. ‘What the hell!’ he shouted, angrily pushing himself off one of the corpses and sloshing through the water to pick up the raft oar. Now he was pissed. On top of everything else he had to deal with this?” (157-58)

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