Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Summary: Miranda is an ordinary sixteen-year-old until one day a meteor headed for the moon--supposed to just be a freak astrological sight--knocks the moon off orbit, forcing it closer to earth.  As a result, natural disasters appear all over the world; coastal cities are flooded, tsunamis wreak havoc, and volcano eruptions cloud the sky with ash.  Electricity and food supplies are cut off, and Miranda, her mother, and her two brothers are left to try to fend for themselves.

Musings: Life As We Knew It is somewhat different than most of the post-apocalyptic literature I've read. Rather than just detailing life after the apocalypse, Life As We Knew It concerns the events before, during, and after the catastrophe.  The reader sees our perfectly ordinary world disintegrate and ordinary citizens struggle to survive.  Now I know little about the science and the moon's affect on Earth, but regardless, what is most appealing about the novel is how plausible it all sounds.  Miranda and her family don't face killer zombies or a government run by all-seeing dictators; they try to eat, keep warm, and stay together when the outside world is no longer a source of support.

Pfeffer uses diary entries to tell the story as Miranda keeps a daily record of what happens.  I'm not crazy about that format (really?  You're writing when the world has just erupted into chaos?  You really took the time to meticulously recreate dialogue from earlier in the day?), but it's not too much of a distraction.

Miranda and her mother are fully detailed characters.  They want to live and they want to support their family, but they both experience doubt, anger, resignation, and hope.  The brothers, Jonny and Matt, are a little more one-dimensional.  I had also hoped for more from Megan, Miranda's fervently religious friend.  I can certainly see how people might turn to religion in this time, but Miranda is so condescending and fanatical that Megan just comes off as crazy.  I think it would have been more interesting to see two very different--but balanced--reactions to what happened.

Some parts of the book don't quite come together.  Would Jonny's baseball camp really still be running during all of this?  And if the baseball camp has food, why doesn't the whole starving family enroll in camp?  The family is just lucky enough to have made a huge run on food and all necessary supplies and have a well and have a wood burning stove?  Despite the widespread death and starvation, there are no violent encounters with other families?

The deus ex machina which ends the book also felt a bit false, but in a story in which things almost always get worse, it's good to have a ray of sunshine.

I'm not particularly eager to read the next in the series although I may get around to it eventually.  The bleak tone may wear on some readers despite the positive emphasis on the strength of family bonds.  However, Life As We Knew It does do a good job of forcing the reader to wonder, "What would I do?"


  1. I totally agree. I wasn't all that impressed by the book, and from what I've heard, the second one is right there with it.

  2. That's good to know. There are so many great dystopian/post-apocalyptic books that I'm eager to try that I probably won't bother with the next then.