Thursday, August 6, 2015

The end of the world is fun

Fun to read about, that is.  (And no, I'm not talking about the Book of Revelations.)  People in the publishing industry have been saying dystopian books have run their course and we're moving on to realism  the contemporary kind of realism of John Green (not me, of course) who writes of nerds and cancer.  Perhaps, although every once in a while I run across a dystopia that falls in the "guilty pleasures" category, such as The Living by Matt De La Peña.  (If you were paying attention you downloaded a free audio version of it a few weeks ago.)

Shy, a Mexican-American kid from a small border-town near San Diego, is working on a cruise ship and earning good money. He's still dealing with his grandmother's recent death from Romero's Disease when a drunken guest approaches him near the railing.  They talk for a few moments, but before Shy knows what's going on, the man jumps overboard. Shy tried to hold on to his sleeve, but the man seemed intent on ending his life. But on the next cruise, a mysterious man in a suit wants to know exactly what the guy said to Shy before he jumped. But none of that matters when the ship is hit by a huge tsunami and he's fighting for his life... or does it?

Don't get me wrong: I had some problems with this book. First, the story is very predictable  it was hard NOT to see where it was headed almost from the beginning. Second, the profanity is pretty bad (and really stands out in the audio version). Plus, it drags when Shy and Addy  the snotty rich blonde girl (of course, you knew there had to be one)  are adrift on a raft, fending off sharks and trying to survive. And yet, in spite of all that, I couldn't stop listening. It's heavily plot-driven but the action kept me hooked.  Surprisingly, the characters are mostly well-developed and likeable. de la Pena is a pretty good storyteller.

In fact, when I saw an advance copy of book 2, The Hunted, on Amazon Vine, I jumped on it.  And in the interest of not giving away any spoilers, I'll only say that Shy and his friends finally reach Los Angeles and now face a city that has descended into chaos.  The government has walled off California and the people have set up zones to prevent the spread of thieves and disease. It wasn't as good as the first book even though it was less predictable (in some ways), but still a fun read. Some of the characters (Carmen, especially) seem less well-developed than in the first (she's almost a caricature), and aren't as likeable, but the 'dystopian' aspect of the series comes through more here than in the first one. It was still enough fun that I breezed through it in a few days.

So, if the end of the world is still fun for you, give Matt De La Peña a try.

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