87 pages 2 hours read

Matt de la Peña

The Living

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


The Living by Matt de la Peña is a young adult novel that is in equal parts thriller, adventure, coming-of-age story, and commentary on the social divides of race and class in American culture. The Living was published in 2013 and received the Pura Belpré Award, a US literary prize for young people’s literature that represents the Latino cultural experience. A sequel to The Living, called The Hunted, was published in 2015. This guide is based on the Kindle e-book edition.

Plot Summary

The protagonist of The Living is Shy Espinoza, a Mexican American high school student who takes a job on a luxury cruise ship to help support his family. Shy is selfless and hardworking and wants to make enough money to help his mother fill the financial hole left after the death of his grandmother. His grandmother died from a highly contagious illness known as Romero Disease, which has been sweeping unchecked through border towns in Mexico and the United States.

Shy shares a cabin with Rodney, a six-foot-four offensive lineman who spends his time reading romance novels and working in the kitchen. He is also enamored with his friend Carmen, an 18-year-old, half-Mexican woman whose father died from Romero Disease; Carmen has a fiancé waiting for her back home, a fact that causes conflict when Shy’s romantic feelings for her become clear. He also works alongside Marcus, a hip-hop dancer, and Kevin, an Australian underwear model, and regularly encounters an enigmatic older man named Shoeshine.

On Shy’s first voyage with the Paradise Cruise Line, he witnesses the unusual last moments and suicide of scientist David Williamson. Williamson rambles about the blood on his hands and the fact that he has betrayed Shy in some way. Shy attempts to save Williamson when he throws himself over the railing of the ship, but he isn’t strong enough to hold on before the man falls to his death.

On his next voyage, Shy notices that a man in a black suit is following him and asking questions about him. His cabin is broken into and searched, and another passenger—Jim Miller, owner of the drug company LasoTech—takes a suspicious interest in him at the same time.

A sudden storm develops, forcing the passengers and crew to shelter inside. As the storm worsens and the waves grow higher, a series of devastating earthquakes demolish the west coast of the United States. Aside from destroying entire cities, the earthquakes also cause several tsunamis, which tear the cruise ship apart and kill the majority of the passengers and crew. When the storm passes, Shy is left in a half-destroyed lifeboat with a Texan oil tycoon, William Henry, and a rich, snobby girl named Addison Miller—the daughter of Jim Miller. The three struggle to survive on the open ocean, dealing with thirst, hunger, and circling sharks. William Henry dies following a shark bite, and Addison and Shy grow closer as they are forced to rely on each other to stay alive.

Shy and Addison—along with many of the other survivors—eventually reach Jones Island, a private island where LasoTech carries out pharmaceutical experiments. A ship of researchers arrive on the island and offer to take all the survivors home. Shy and Carmen are reunited, and Addison and her father disappear. Shy learns that LasoTech is responsible for creating the deadly Romero Disease to profit off of the vaccine. The researchers, revealed to be LasoTech security forces, execute all of the survivors except for Shy, Carmen, Marcus, and Shoeshine, who escape on a sailboat while the island is burned.