Review of “Life As We Knew It” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Inventoried your pantry lately? This book will have you running out to the grocery story for canned peaches, dried milk, batteries, and everything else you can think of to get you through an unanticipated apocalyptic catastrophe.

Miranda is sixteen, and dreams about fame, fortune, and boys, not necessarily in that order. But when an asteroid of unexpected density hits the moon and knocks its orbit off-kilter, suddenly the world is inundated with disasters caused by the change in the moon’s gravitational pull. Tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes kill millions of people, although Miranda and her family are relatively safe in Pennsylvania. Miranda’s mom also has the foresight, as soon as the destructive power of the moon’s gravity became clear, to stock up on food, medicine, warm clothing, and other supplies. Her brothers Matt and Jonny fill the house with chopped wood and stockpiled water. Meanwhile, the world keeps getting darker and colder as volcanic ash blocks the sun. Neither crops nor fodder can be grown, and animals are killed or die from lack of food. Oil reserves under the earth and sea are gone, and with no heat or medical services and little food, starvation affects many, and communicable diseases become rampant and lethal. Armed looters add to the chaos.

In Miranda’s community, a corrupt religious evangelist takes advantage of the anomie to save himself while contributing to the sacrifice and death of his followers, one of whom includes Miranda’s best friend.

Throughout everything, Miranda tries to keep writing in her diary, chronicling these times for the day if and when things return to normal – “so I can always remember life as we knew it.” (The book is actually the collection of dated entries in Miranda’s diary.) After awhile, however, as everyone becomes weaker, they almost all give up on the hope that that day will come. Miranda sees no way out for her family, unless she herself dies and gives them the gift of one less mouth to feed.

Discussion: Miranda’s diary is someone reminiscent of Anne Frank’s. Miranda starts out as a normal teen with such abnormal circumstances and responsibilities thrust upon her that she matures quickly, yet without relinquishing some of her teenaged cares and sense of humor. And sometimes her frustration just boils over. While they still had radio reception, her mom heard there was an earthquake right by a nuclear power plant in California:

“‘Now do you see how lucky we are?’ she demanded.

‘I never said we weren’t!’ I yelled, because I hadn’t. Or at least I hadn’t today. All I did was ask if things were getting better, which isn’t exactly the same as saying I wish we had electricity and hot chocolate and television and a prom with an actual date to look forward to.”

But as the time passes, you can see her thinking develop:

“Every day when I go to sleep I think what a jerk I was to have felt sorry for myself the day before. My Wednesdays are worse than my Tuesdays, my Tuesdays way worse than my Tuesday of a week before. Which means every tomorrow is going to be worse than every today. Why feel sorry for myself today when tomorrow’s bound to be worse?

It’s a hell of a philosophy, but it’s all I’ve got.”

In addition, Miranda along with the rest of her family develop an acute appreciation for every little blessing, every little moment that they are still alive:

“‘I wonder if they’re dropping the ball at Times Square tonight,’ Jon said. ‘It’s already New Year’s in a lot of places on earth.’

I wondered, and I think we all did, if this would be our last New Year’s.

Do people ever realize how precious life is? I know I never did before. There was always time. There was always a future.

Maybe because I don’t know anymore if there is a future, I’m grateful for the good things that have happened to me this year.

I never knew I could love as deeply as I do. I never knew I could be so willing to sacrifice things for other people. I never knew how wonderful a taste of pineapple juice could be, or the warmth of a woodstove, or the sound of Horton purring, or the feel of clean clothes against freshly scrubbed skin.

It wouldn’t be New Year’s without a resolution. I’ve resolved to take a moment every day for the rest of my life to appreciate what I have.

Happy New Year, world!”

Evaluation: This is a book that is generally recommended for middle and high school students. The prose is not complexly wrought, nor is the vocabulary daunting. But I would recommend it for middle grade through adult. Intellectually, it is thought-provoking enough for anyone of any age. Emotionally, there is enough to inspire all age levels. And for those of you old enough to shop, it is a cautionary tale that may change your whole orientation toward consumption! Highly recommended!

Rating: 4/5

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 2006

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21 Responses to Review of “Life As We Knew It” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

  1. caite says:

    gosh, am I going to be the only person who did not totally love this book?
    I hope to get my review up soon and it will be a very mixed review. Emotionally I liked it, it is scary, it is very effecting, but the more I thought about it, the more problems I had..

  2. Amanda says:

    Sigh. I must be the only person on earth who found the format of this book completely unbelievable. I so wish this had been told in third or first person, rather than by diaries entries, because I spent the whole book being unafraid because the diary was just so ridiculously unbelievable. :/

  3. Julie P. says:

    This book has been on my wish list for a few months now. It’s interesting because I think I only know about it from the blogging community. It sounds powerful.

  4. Caite,

    I can’t wait to see why you didn’t like it so much. I didn’t at first, but after a while, projecting myself into the disaster scenario and wondering how I would cope just sort of took over for me!

    Amanda,

    I think as I said to Caite, after a while I was substituting my own voice in the diary entries!

  5. Kay says:

    You’re not the last person to read it because I haven’t read it. I have it. Like a million others. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll get to it at some point.

  6. Ti says:

    I am halfway through book two and it’s just a s good!! I can’t wait for book three this summer.

  7. kiss a cloud says:

    I must be living in La La Land because I’ve never heard of this book nor author before! Lol.

  8. Sandy says:

    My daughter and I read the first two (anxiously waiting on the third!) and are totally hooked into the story. We felt the first book was better than the second, but both were thought-provoking, and showed nice growth in their protagonists!

  9. I’ve had my eye on this book for awhile, but just haven’t got around to reading it. This is definitely the kind of book my husband would love, though. Great review!

    –Anna

  10. I loved this book, even though I had some minor problems with it, I do think it falls under the realm of fantasy. 😉 Emotionally, I felt it was real.

    I loved the second book even more.

  11. Jenny says:

    This was one of those books for me that was way too real, way too much like my experience of natural disasters, and I actually found it thoroughly upsetting. I haven’t read the second book for that reason. I heard a rumor that it was even more bleak than this one!

  12. bermudaonion says:

    I think this is a book my whole family would enjoy.

  13. Nymeth says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Well, if “enjoyed” is the right word. This book affected me enough that I’ve been hesitant to pick up the rest of the trilogy even though I thought so highly of it. Like you said, a cautionary tale.

  14. Staci says:

    As always, another great review. I loved this book even though I had several nightmares while reading it. It does make you pause and wonder to yourself, “What would I do?”

  15. Jenners says:

    I know my survival planning would involve stockpiling a lot of chocolate.

  16. I loved Life As We Knew It! You picked out some excellent quotes. I remember looking at the moon with distrust when I finished this book. 😛

  17. Margot says:

    I have a tendency to be a stockpiler anyway. That will be reason enough to skip this one. I believe I’m batting 100% in you “Last Person” series. I haven’t read any of them either.

  18. Tara says:

    I thought this was a really compelling read. I’m glad for your reivew – I think the third installment is coming out shortly – must see if the library has ordered it!

  19. Lisa says:

    I like to think we could last a while but then we are always out of batteries, I never stock powdered milk and have no kind of protein in case of catastrophe (are we going to have to eat Spam for months?). This one certainly is thought provoking.

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    I don’t read much YA so I’ve avoided this one even though it sounds great. But the concept is so interesting I may have to break down and read it. Great review!

  21. bambi says:

    good book. a lot of websites i’ve visited about this book have said negative things about the character Miranda – i disagree. i believe that it takes a lot of strength and perseverance to do what she did in the hard times throughout the book.

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