Wednesday, February 03, 2010

State of the World Got You Down? Life As We Knew It Proves It Could Be Worse ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Megan's right about my being a sinner. But she's wrong about hell. You don't have to wait until you're dead to get there" (196).

For as long as I can remember, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons) has strongly encouraged its members to stockpile a year's supply of food. No one's saying the world's going to end tomorrow, but church leaders want everyone to be prepared to survive any kind of disaster, be it a hurricane, an earthquake, drought or just economic instability. This counsel has been preached for so long that members' reactions to it run the gamut - some hoard obsessively, others laugh off the advice, while most do their best to lay in a year's worth of supplies. I'm a middle-roader. I've got a decent stockpile. Up until the other day, I figured it would be good enough to tide my family over in case of an emergency. Then, I read Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. Guess who's ready to buy Costco out of every can of food it has in stock?

When the book begins, it's May 7, an ordinary day. Through Miranda's diary entries, we learn that she's a typical teenaged girl - she's worried about her French grade, irritated with her best friend-turned religious zealot, obsessed with a local ice skater, and excited to get her driver's license. By May 18, ordinary no longer exists. Forget French and driving and ice skating, Miranda's now obsessed with one thing only: survival.

It's the asteroid that does it. Instead of just providing a spectacular lights display, it smacks the moon with enough force to slam it closer to Earth. "It was still our moon," says Miranda, "and it was still just a big dead rock in the sky, but it wasn't benign anymore. It was terrifying." The impact causes chaos all over the world - tsunamis wash away coastal cities, floods submerge whole states, earthquakes rumble across the globe, and long-dormant volcanoes erupt, clogging the air with ash. As food supplies run out, sickness spreads, gas climbs to $15 a gallon, and the death toll rises, staying alive becomes the only thing that matters. In Pennsylvania, Miranda's family is facing an early winter (it's 42 degrees in August) with no electricity, a few cans of food, and little hope of rescue. Can they survive? Is there even a reason to live anymore?

I keep comparing Life As We Knew It to Gone, which tells a similar story. I've been trying to figure out why the former freaked me out so much more than the latter. I finally decided that Gone's furiously-paced plot keeps things moving so fast there's little time to really consider the horror of the situation the author describes. Life As We Knew It, on the other hand, is a much quieter story. As Miranda pens ever more desperate entries in her diary, we feel her hunger, her anger, her hopelessness. We also see her courage, her strengths and her weaknesses. Considering our current economy and the devastation in Haiti, it's frightfully easy to imagine ourselves in Miranda's place.

Although the story's both bleak and disturbing, it's also undeniably compelling. It starts off a little rocky (the beginning's a teensy bit slow and the writing's bumpy), but Life As We Knew It quickly becomes the kind of story that just takes your breath away. The characters, the setting - everything - is so vivid that closing the book almost feels like waking up. That's how absorbing it is.

If you're already depressed over the state of the world, I recommend you skip this one, but if you're up for some tense, engrossing post-apocalyptic fiction or if you just need some motivation to gather your year's supply of food, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is the book for you.

Readalikes: Gone series by Michael Grant; also reminds me a little of The Diary of Anne Frank)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for language, mild sexual innuendo and mature themes

To the FTC, with love: This one came from the library.

3 comments:

  1. I loved this book and the next one in the series. Definitely compelling, but heartbreaking at the same time.

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  2. I remember being all freaked out about my food storage after reading this! That is a powerful reaction, I think. I wonder what you will think of the next one...it is rather different in tone/feeling.

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  3. I just got Gone from the Library. I cant remember who recommend it to me. Have you reviewed it already?

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