Title: Life As We Knew It
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
No. of Pages: 337
First Released: 2006
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid 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. In her journal, Miranda records the events of each desperate day, while she and her family struggle to hold on to their most priceless resource–hope.”
Comments and Critique: I have discovered a new love of post-apocalyptic fiction, if only because it gives me some great ideas on what I need to do to prepare myself for the worst. I learned quite a bit from Life As We Knew It, as there were some situations I never previously considered. While I do not think the moon will ever move closer to the earth, there are some definitely survival lessons to learn from books like this.
On top of that morbid fascination I have, Life As We Knew It was outstanding. For once, there is a YA novel in which the parent is not only present but is an active participant in the teenager’s life. Because of that, Miranda displays typical teenage behavior – uncontrollable outbursts, temper tantrums, selfishness – that I personally found refreshing in its more realistic picture of a teen struggling to make sense of her world. The fact that a parent is around makes it that much more realistic, to me. I could relate to Miranda because while I wasn’t dealing with numerous catastrophes, part of the growing-up process is making sense of a sometimes nonsensical world. Ms. Pfeffer definitely got this aspect right!
The journal approach to the telling of the story was interesting. It worked in that it humanized the overall story quite a bit. Even though one sees everything through only Miranda’s eyes, the reader is left with a very real sense of the danger, the lack of hope, and the lack of a future each of the characters feel at one point in time. My only issue with the journals is that it was not necessarily believable. I have been journaling for a long time, so unless I am doing it wrong, I cannot recall I time I wrote down full dialogue in my journal. I do realize it is just a plot device, and that it works for the most part. There were times, though, when I could not help but stop reading to comment how unlikely it would be that a girl of sixteen would write down conversations in such detail. Fortunately, it was the only aspect of the book I did not like, and the story itself more than made up for any annoyance I felt at the inconsistent nature of the narrative.
Growth, maturity, family, and hope – those are main lessons of survival Life As We Knew It portrays. Forget the need for a wood stove or fireplace, forget the need for cash or stockpiles of food and water, blankets, and medicines, forget the need for some form of personal transportation that does not require a fuel source. Survival in any post-apocalyptic world requires gr0wth and adaptation, the maturity to do so, family to stay connected and human, and hope to keep you alive. They are powerful lessons, and Ms. Pfeffer does a fantastic job showcasing each characters acceptance of the lessons. In addition, through Ms. Pfeffer, the moon takes on a life of its own as it represents the constant fear each character must overcome. After reading Life As We Knew It, I will never look at the moon quite in the same light ever again.
Overall, this was a phenomenal story, unique in its disasters, powerful in its struggles, and scary in its possibilities. It is a YA/coming-of-age story that definitely does not feel like one. There is so much in the novel that people of almost any age group can and will enjoy it. I cannot wait to read the sequel and will be putting it on my husband’s TBR pile immediately!
This book counts for the Buy 1, Read 1 Book Challenge. Yes, that means I purchased it with my own money, and I do not regret it.