Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Summary: Miranda is an ordinary 16 year-old dealing with ordinary teenage troubles.  Her father’s new wife is pregnant, her mother is always nagging her about her grades and Miranda just can't wait for high school to end.  When what should be a harmless astronomical event turns apocalyptic, Miranda’s life shifts as she and her family place physical survival above all else.  Suddenly Miranda’s problems are about losing electricity, heating the house through the winter months and trying not to starve to death.  The world has changed, and Miranda isn’t sure she and her family will survive it.

Dystopian Issue: Apocalyptic Event
Part of a Series: The first book in the Moon Crash/Last Survivors series
Next in Series:  The Dead and The Gone
Age of Main Character: 16 at the beginning of the book, 17 at the end
Number of Pages: 337
Year of Publication: 2006
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.

Review:  What would you do if everything you thought was important suddenly wasn't and all the carefully constructed rules of society fell apart?  How would you face being deep into planning your future, only to have a catastrophic event take any future away from you?
     These are the kind of questions Miranda must face after an asteroid knocks the moon into a lower orbit and changes the world.  One of the reasons I love reading dystopian fiction is because due to having a genetic illness, I feel like I am living in a dystopian universe.  I enjoyed Pfeffer's book because I felt she did an insightful job of portraying what happens when the struggle for physical survival supersedes all else, and the challenges that accompany such a struggle.
     There were a couple of plot threads that did nag at me though.  After the moon is knocked into a lower orbit, the earth is affected in various ways.  At first tsunamis are rampant, then volcanoes start erupting.  But while I've read there are studies connecting the moon cycle to a woman's menstrual cycle, Miranda only gets her period once in the book and Pfeffer does not explore the issue any further even though Miranda and her mother are both in their reproductive years.  I would have enjoyed more detail on the subject.
     I almost put religious fanaticism under dystopian issues because with Miranda's friend Megan, there is just a glimmer of it.  Best friends Miranda, Megan and Sammi have all experienced the loss and death of their other best friend Becky and they all react in different ways.  Megan's way of dealing with her grief is to turn to God and Reverend Marshall, a charismatic young pastor.  After the asteroid hits the moon, Megan's faith seems to reach a fanatical level, and she eventually starves herself to death on purpose because she believes that is what God wants.
     I enjoyed the scene between Miranda and Reverend Marshall after Megan's death when she confronts him, but I wish a more balanced faith reaction to the catastrophe had been represented by Pfeffer.
     Miranda isn't always endearing as a character, but she displays growth as she re-evaluates her values and dreams, putting her family's survival first instead of her own. I also liked how she starts to appreciate the things she previously took for granted, realising it is the little things that are most important in life.  This is another series where I'm looking forward to reading the next book.
Real Life Dystopia:  Regardless of the moon's orbit, natural disasters happen all over the world at various times requiring people to focus on physical survival.  Think Japan's tsunami, Haiti's earthquake, or Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  But when I think of real life situations where a person is forced to put physical survival first, in essence, to cling to whatever life they can have, I think of being faced with a chronic/terminal illness.  Examples would include Terry Fox or Brian Piccolo.

Memorable Quote:  "I put some wood in the stove and collapsed onto my mattress.  That's where I am now.  I don't even know why I'm writing this down, except that I feel fine and maybe tomorrow I will be dead.  And if that happens, and someone should find my journal, I want them to know what happened.
     We are a family.  We love each other.  We've been scared together and brave together.  If this is how it ends, so be it.
     Only, please, don't let me be the last one to die."
     - Life As We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer, page 299

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