Review: Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

Everyone was expecting the meteor that hit the moon, but as soon as it happened it was obvious something was wrong.  Slightly closer and off-kilter, the consequences were immediate.  First it was the tides wiping out the coasts, then earthquakes and tornadoes.  Electricity and gas became scarce, then the heating oil ran out.  Food was hoarded, wells ran dry.  Then volcanoes all over the world became active, blocking out the sun and bringing an early frost.  Slowly every bit of normalcy faded away.  Hungry, unclean and sick, the best anyone can hope for is to make it through the long winter.

16-year-old Miranda keeps a diary of her experiences and her growing desperation.  Very much in the vein of Anne Frank, this story is relatable because food and gas shortages are a reality in many parts of the world (so is genocide, but most American teens probably aren’t personally worried for their safety because of it).  I don’t know enough about the science to say how well researched the book is or how plausable its chain of events, but I have seen it criticized for this.  Not substantially enough to understand why, though.  Miranda is strong, but not too strong, and she’s enough of a blank to project yourself onto her circumstances.  Almost everyone dies, but the book is still hopeful without losing its pragmatism.  If its not realistic, it feels like it is.  Pfeffer’s few misplaced shots at fundamentalism and George Bush seem tacked on and inessential, as sympathetic as I might be to the message.

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5 responses to “Review: Life As We Knew It

  1. Sounds kinda like The Road for teens.

    Also, criticizing books like this for their scientific implausibility is kinda not getting the point.

  2. Yeah, but there is being REALLY MacGuffiny (one day, all the water went away!) & being harder in the science. It is a legitimate thing to note.

  3. When stories like this are told in the form of journal I always find it undercuts the sense of danger of any of the events, since axiomatically the narrator has to come out of it well enough to write them down. I think journals and epistolary documents work better when used in service of a mystery like they were in The Prestige.

  4. @Ford MF:I haven’t read The Road, but I think this book is less bleak and gruesome. It is easy to imagine that more bleak and gruesome things were going on in its world than what was shown, though.

    The science was sound enough for me, but if I’m reading a story and know more about it than the author or can tell the author took liberties, it can easily take me out of the story. Some stories encourage a suspension of disbelief more than others, and this one comes across as being matter-of-fact. If that makes sense.

    @peter: I think this book tries to build that suspense by threatening to kill her family. But I also think numbness and dread are the emotions this book is going for, more than terror or fear.

    My biggest problem with epistolary books for teens is that loads of them are Bridget Jones for boys. And their appeal is lost on me.

  5. @mordicai:Macguffin is your new favorite word. Also, I don’t think this book was that baldly manipulative.

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