Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer

Title: Life As We Knew It
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publisher: Harcourt, 2008 (Paperback)
Length: 337 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: October 14, 2010
Finished: October 16, 2010

Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all--hope--in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world.

When I picked up this book and looked to the back for a summary, I didn't find one. All I found were recommendation quotes pretty much saying the same thing, "once you start this book, you won't be able to put it down."

The quotes were right.

From the moment I opened the book, I think I plowed through 150 pages in one sitting. The next day I went through just over 100 pages. I finished the rest this morning. If I didn't need to sleep I probably would have finished it all in one sitting, the book was that engrossing.

Miranda is 16 and living with her mom, 18-year-old brother Matt and 13-year-old brother Jon (Jonny). Her parents are divorced and her dad has since remarried and his new wife is expecting a baby. Miranda's mother is dating Peter, a doctor. She's trying to cope with her new family situation, plus the death of one of her best friends, in addition to going to school and getting good grades, not to mention her activities with the swim team. Pretty normal life for a typical teenage girl. All that changes when an asteroid hits the moon.

Apparently everyone underestimated the size of the asteroid and didn't expect the moon to be completely knocked off it's orbit, pushing it closer to the earth and instantly messing with the tides and weather patterns. Even though their Pennsylvania home is spared from the tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, Miranda's mom takes the kids out of school and stocks up on everything they can get their hands on from the local grocery store. Gas goes up to $13 a gallon and the stores close when product doesn't come in. The schools continue to operate. but in limited capacity after half the student population, the teachers, and their families move to seek better conditions further south. Volcanic ash blankets everything and blocks out the sun, causing crops to die and what should be an August summer becomes the first frosts of winter. Services like electricity, gas, and even water stop completely.

One thing I like about this premise is that most books in a dystopian setting take place hundreds of years after the disasters have wrecked our planet and look at the descendants of the survivors in whatever new world order they've built up. This story examines what goes on with the survivors and how they (hopefully) get around to rebuilding the world.

Miranda chronicles her family's experiences in her journal, as well as the harrowing psychological effects of not knowing if there's even a future to inherit in the off chances you survive. This is where the book really shines, it examines the idea of survival when hope is hard to find, of making yourself have a purpose to keep going when all you want to do it sit down and let the inevitable happen. It's pretty bleak and realistic (the family has an unspoken agreement to eat less to give one individual the best chances of surviving) but there's hope at the end so it's not all depressing. There's two more books in the series (not quite sequels, more like companion novels), so I'll definitely be picking those up so I can get more of this.

Pick this up, trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it, it focuses on the winter scene with the newly positioned moon full in focus. They continue this theme with the following books, so glad to see there's an attempt at coordinating.

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