Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer

“I know all those astronomers I’d watched an hour earlier on CNN can explain just what happened and how and why and they’ll be explaining on CNN tonight and tomorrow and I guess until the next big story happens.  I know I can’t explain, because I don’t really know what happened and I sure don’t know why.

But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore. It was tilted and wrong and a three-quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, large like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising.  It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible…It was still our moon and it was still just a big dead rock in the sky, but it wasn’t benign anymore.  It was terrifying, and you could feel the panic swell all around us.  Some people raced to their cars and started speeding away.  Others began praying or weeping. One household began singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

When a meteor crashes into the moon, it sets off a series of terrifying calamities: tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and climate changes.  Panicked citizens rush into stores and get in fights over canned goods.  Gas prices skyrocket. Electric power service becomes erratic and soon ceases altogether.  As for water, the lucky ones are those that have their own wells, but even they risk running dry; the climate changes mean unpredictable rain showers.  When it does rain, the storms are of frightening magnitude.

Sixteen-year-old Miranda records it all in her diary.  She lives in Pennsylvania with her mother and two brothers.  Together, they try to survive the end of the world as they knew it.  They watch their dwindling supplies of canned goods, chop firewood for their stove, and venture out only to the post office, to wait anxiously for news of loved ones.  The lists of the dead grow longer and longer; many people starve or freeze to death, and those that survive are susceptible, in their weakened states, to the flu or other diseases.  What’s a teenager to do when it looks like the end of the world?

I’ve read a lot of books about the future; I’ll admit, I have a weak spot for Worst Case Scenarios.  The earth runs out of oil? I totally want to read about it.  Zombie apocalypse?  The only way I’ll be prepared is by figuring out what the characters in the book did, right?  Anyway, I consider myself reasonably well-qualified to judge these kinds of books.  Life as We Knew it is one of the best I’ve read, for several reasons.  First, it’s one of the scariest because it seems to be the most likely Way The World Ends.  An asteroid hits and the dust from the impact and the ash from volcanic activity obscure the sun and cause dramatic climate changes.  Secondly, the diary format really captures Miranda’s anxiety, frustration, and cabin fever as her world is reduced to the size of a single room: the only room heated by their woodstove.  And thirdly, the ending isn’t controved, no deus ex machina solutions that enable scientists to push the moon back into place and restore order.  I can’t tell you, of course, but you can trust Susan Pfeffer: she won’t let you down with an unrealistic ending, but she won’t terrify you with nothing but destruction, either.

Miranda’s voice is realistic, and her observations of the world around her are sharp and fascinating. I was horrified and captivated while reading her entries about her brothers, after she realizes that her mother might have to choose which of the three children to continue feeding, should the resources get too low. This book will have you stocking up on canned goods and batteries, for sure.  If you’re looking for a chilling book to escape the miserable summer heat, this one is a great place to start.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com

Pfeffer, Susan. Life as We Knew It. Scholastic: New York, 2006. 337 pp. Ages 13 and up.

If this book sounds great, you’re in luck! There are two more in the series: The Dead and the Gone, and This World We Live In.

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5 thoughts on “Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer

  1. ​I took my sweet time but finally finished the book. This one gives me mixed emotions: there is an amazing and original story but I do not feel it is particularly well written–or, at least, it is poorly edited–though the writing may be intentional effect completely wasted on me. I also found myself at odds with the tone, which is a difficult problem given the format of the book.

    ​Anyway, I found it hard to build momentum but absolutely loved the story once I did. I was constantly surprised by Pfeffer’s departure from cliche–which kept the story interesting–and adherence to strict realism–over the introduction of absurd situations and heroics. And, I only maybe possibly teared up just a bit a couple of times–but certainly, definitely not at the end. Most importantly, I snagged quite a few intra-apocalypse survival tips.

    ​Once I catch up on all of my other personal projects, I will definitely be reading The Dead & The Gone and This World We Live In. I think I may identify more with Alex, the main character of The Dead & The Gone, than Miranda–because he is responsible for his younger siblings, not because he is male. And, the premise of the last book has me excited: like they are seeking a friend for the end of the world, hahahaha.

    1. Hi Chris! I just finished reading The Dead and the Gone (it finally came across my desk at the library) and I have to completely agree-I bet you will relate more to Alex than Miranda. His voice and character felt more “real” than Miranda, actually. Interestingly enough, I just learned that the author is actually a man named Mickey Spillane, not a woman named Susan Beth Pfeffer. I’m curious to see what you think about his portrayal of Alex!

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