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The Living by Matt de Lana Pena (reviewed in VOYA December 2013)

I have been reviewing for VOYA since 2001.  This year, something really exciting happened.  On page 55 of the December 2013 issue of VOYA, I reviewed THE LIVING by Matt de la Pena.  Just yesterday, at the ALA Youth Media Awards, it was announced that this title won a Pura Belpre Honor Award. 

“The Pura Belpré Award is a recognition presented to a Latino or Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays the Latino cultural experience in a work of literature for children or youth. It was established in 1996. It has been given every other year since 1996. Beginning with the 2009 award, it will be given annually.” (from ALA)

Here’s an excerpt of my review in VOYA:

de la Pena manages to pack a lot into THE LIVING: there is an examination of social class, a pandemic (already in existence and effecting Shy’s life); the adventure saga at sea, and a conspiracy plot all of which take the reader on a whiplash of adventure.  In less deft hands, the pieces could fall apart, but de la Pena manages to make it all work.  There are a few convenient coincidences that come into play but in the end, readers just will not care because this is an excellent, enthralling ride.  Shy is an interesting main character with an authentic voice . . .

In the end, I gave THE LIVING a 4Q and 5P rating.  Watching a book I love win an award was very affirming.

Congratulations Matt on this well deserved honor!


  1. Creating disease so that a company could reap benefits of having a solution is precisely what is happening in Arizona with respect to racism against Mexican and Mexican Americans. Corporations wanted a get-rich scheme, so they stirred people up, built prisons, and then got laws passed that meant Mexican and Mexican Americans were picked up as “illegals” who need to be imprisoned. NPR did a story on it. As you'll see at top, they are backing away from it a bit. http://www.npr.org/2010/10/28/130833741/prison-economics-help-drive-ariz-immigration-law

  2. Must add this to my to-read list! So many great books, but this one seems truly impactful and important.

  3. Debbie, I haven't heard about this but will definitely check out this story. Human greed and evil always seems to surprise me, though it really shouldn't at this point. Karen, TLT

  4. I am so interested in the depiction of class struggles and income inequality, in part because we see it growing so rapidly these days. Part of what I loved about THE LIVING was reading about how income and race prejudices affected Shy. Karen, TLT

  5. You're the best!!


  6. I re-read my comment and realize that people who haven't read his book won't know what my comment has to do with the book!

    The VOYA review references a pandemic. As I read about that pandemic, I thought about the NPR story. I came to know Matt two years ago when the Tucson school district shut down its Mexican American Studies classes. Literally. In the middle of the day. The classes, according to a judge, violated a law that had been written specifically to shut down those classes, because reading books that reflected their own history and experience was (according to the law), was part of an effort to overthrow the US government. Matt's book MEXICAN WHITE BOY was at the heart of that judgement.

    Matt was scheduled to be out there and there were concerns his visit would be cancelled by the district. It went on after all, and Matt wrote about it.

    Part of the racism directed against Mexican Americans and Mexicans (and other Indigenous peoples) there included HB 1070, which is all about arresting and incarcerating “illegal immigrants.” Hence, the NPR story. I don't know if Matt intended the pandemic to be a parallel to the corporate prison story, but it leapt out at me because of his visit to Arizona and relationships he developed in being there.

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