THE SUNDAY REVIEW: The Living by Matt de la Pena


Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 5.14.29 PM“Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he’ll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all. But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy’s only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed.”

So, there are very few things that make me instantly dislike a book. Actually, scratch that — there’s only one thing.


And I don’t mean characters who are consciously written to be sexist, I mean an overwhelming sense that the author him/herself is sexist. And maybe I’m wrong about this, maybe this author doesn’t have a sexist bone in his body… but that’s the feeling I got reading The Living. From the very first page, with the MC referring to women as “females” (ugh) to the main love sex interest, Carmen. Oh, Carmen. How can I explain the problem with her?

I think it’s a very subtle form of sexism — having one main female character who is liked and desired because she is “one of the guys”. She has “male” characteristics, e.g. she’s tough, doesn’t ever cry or giggle (God forbid), doesn’t care about clothes or anything “girly”. She will also, of course, be smoking hot (but completely unaware of it! Funny how often that happens). She’ll be the main female interest, and the male writer will think by writing this “tough” female, he’s safe from us irritating feminists.

But take a look at all the other female characters and you’ll see how the author really feels. All the rest are “typical” women — you know, whiny, bitchy, obsessed with dieting, boys and clothes.**

It’s a trend I’m seeing more and more often and it bugs the hell out of me. Having one tough female character who is only admired because she is “like a boy” is BS. And while this book actually did improve (and piss me off less) as it went on, it was too little, too late. Which is a shame, because if you wiped out the overwhelming sexism, you’d have a reasonably well-written, fast-paced survival story with two diverse main characters.

Either way, I think I’ll skip the sequel to this one. I’m too busy giggling and counting calories, anyway.

xo Elizabeth

** It is taking an enormous amount of energy to contain a huge rant here.