Review of “This World We Live In” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Note: Spoilers for the 1st two books in this series, but none for this book.

This is Book 3 of The Last Survivors Series that began with Life As We Knew It and continued with The Dead and The Gone. A year has now passed since an asteroid collided with the moon, knocking it closer to Earth. The stronger gravitational pull resulted in tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, famine, and epidemics. After a year, only the strongest have survived, or as Matt, Miranda’s brother observes, “Survival of the fittest. And the luckiest.”

In Life As We Knew It, we learned how the catastrophe affected Miranda (now 17) in Pennsylvania. She and her mother Laura and brothers Matt and Jon have survived, but she is unaware of the fate of her father Hal, his new wife Lisa, and the baby they were expecting at the time of the disaster.

In The Dead and The Gone, we got the perspective of Alex (now 18) in New York City. Alex and his younger sister Julie are alone; his parents died in the original tidal onslaught, and his other sister Brie died of illness during the subsequent year.

Book 3 brings the two families together.

Miranda’s family is initially expanded after Matt and Jon go on a trip to try and catch some fish in the Delaware River. They return with a bag full of shad, and a lovely girl, who has named herself Sylvia Plath, that Matt brings her home as his “wife.” They said their makeshift vows at the campsite, because in this new world, there is no time for the luxury of courtship.

Soon thereafter, Miranda’s doorbell rings (a shocking and frightening event when all of the neighbors are gone and marauders roam the streets) and it turns out to be Hal, Lisa, and their new baby Gabriel. With them are three others: Charlie Rutherford: a friend they met in evacuation camp, and Alex and Julie Morales. Now they were eleven. Miranda’s unspoken thought echoed that of the others: “Did Dad expect us to feed all these people?” But she discovers that her mother is the biggest advocate of all of taking care of Gabriel:

“…I finally figured out why Mom is willing to give up so much for her ex-husband’s baby. Gabriel isn’t just Dad’s baby. He’s Dad’s future, Lisa’s future. He’s all our futures … Every day Gabriel lives and grows a little bigger, a little stronger, is a miracle.”

But there is not just the problem of food and constant hunger. The crowded situation has them all craving privacy, and inevitably, leads to jealousy and fighting as well. [Compare the situation described in The Diary of Anne Frank. The similarities continue throughout the story.]

Alex is a mystery to Miranda. As she writes in her diary:

“I feel sorrow and anger and despair. I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t. I sometimes feel like my sorrow and anger and despair burn inside me the way the sun used to burn on a hot July day.

But that was nothing compared to what I sensed in Alex. His sorrow, his anger, his despair was like a thousand suns, like a galaxy of suns.”

When Miranda gets to know Alex, at first she calls him “the most annoying, last living boy in America.” He resists the attempts of Miranda and her family to make them part of their new extended family. Alex claims that Miranda doesn’t understand. She replies:

“‘I do understand,’ I said. … Tomorrow terrifies me. I wake up every morning scared and I go to bed every night scared, and all those tomorrows I’ve lived through are exactly the same. Hunger and fear and loneliness. Exactly the same as you, as everybody. Only you’re worse, because when we ask you to share our hunger and our fear and our loneliness, you turn your back on us. I may be lonely and scared and hungry, but I haven’t given up on loving people yet.”

How they cope, and learn to adjust to these new demands on limited resources, and the new unexpected extension of kinship, are the subjects of Book 3.

Discussion: Once again there are echoes of Anne Frank’s situation, as more people in trouble gather and place a strain on resources and relationships. And there is a similar tone of desperation as darkness closes in.

It was also interesting for me to read this book right after having finished Tender Morsels, a fairy tale about a woman being able to live in her personal idea of heaven. In this book, the idea of heaven also looms large, but it is a different heaven: it is the heaven of before. Miranda asks Julie:

“‘What’s heaven like?’ I asked. ‘Do you know?’

‘No one’s hungry there,’ Julie said. ‘Or cold or lonely. You can see millions of stars at night… And there are gardens. Big vegetable gardens filled with everything. Tomatoes, radishes. String beans. They’re my favorites, the string bean plants.’

‘No flowers?’ I said.

‘You can have flowers if you want,’ Julie said. ‘It’s heaven.’”

Evaluation: This book did not hold quite the same appeal for me as the first two. Nothing much can shock the characters anymore, or the readers. But still, if you have read the first two, you will be invested in the story, and want to know what happens. And it has very affecting insights into the effects of loss, as well as both poignancy and humor.

Oddly, although ostensibly a trilogy, the third book ends as ambiguously as the previous two, and feels very much like a lead-in to a fourth book. If there were such a book, I would want to read it, but I feel the author is tired of the characters or the subject or both. Fatigue radiated out of the third book, rather than the excitement of the first two. This is not to say I wasn’t glad to have read it; it just doesn’t quite meet the standard of the preceding two volumes.

Note: The various plot threads in this third book may be difficult to grasp if you have not read either or both of the previous books.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Harcourt Children’s Books, 2010

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15 Responses to Review of “This World We Live In” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

  1. Sandy says:

    My daughter and I just finished this one…review coming next week! We both really liked this book, for no other reason than finding out what happens next. But like you said, nothing much is really resolved in the end, which I admire in a way, but really leaves the door open for another installment. I was a little rattled over the ending, and Miranda’s “action”. I didn’t necessarily disagree with it, but it disturbed Emma and was pretty gutsy on Pfeffers part. Overall though, loved the series.

  2. Julie H. says:

    My son and I are waiting to read this one! Interesting comments about “fatigue”. Wonder if it is the author or maybe the characters themselves that are tired?!

  3. Hmm. I really want to read these books but to find out that the last one has an ambiguous ending… Thanks for letting me know.

    –Anna

  4. caite says:

    what I co-inky-dink…I just reviewed ‘Life As We Knew It’ on my blog today.
    Let’s just say I had a different take on it than you…or Sandy in the comments above…had

  5. I loved the first one, which gave me nightmares. I’ve yet to read book 2 and now I see I need to read this one too!

  6. bermudaonion says:

    I know this series is pretty popular, but I don’t read a lot of dystopia, so I can’t decide if it’s for me or not.

  7. Nymeth says:

    I’m sorry to hear this didn’t quite live up to the first two for you. It sounds like it was worth reading anyway, though.

    Also, you’ve finished Tender Morsels? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

  8. Jenners says:

    I’ve heard similar things by other bloggers who’ve read all three books. I suppose I might check these out at some point .. but I don’t think I’ll rush to it.

  9. Ti says:

    I received the book today so thank you for sending it! I imagine I won’t be surprised by any of it either but since I read the first two I figure I must read the third.

    I’ve been a reading fool all week but hope to read this one this weekend (possibly). It’s been so nice and sunny here that it’s hard to stay indoors.

  10. Tara says:

    I am waiting for my library to buy this so I can read it! It’s too bad it didn’t live up to the other two in the series. Like you, I’ll keep reading this series as long as it continues just to know how the story ends.

  11. softdrink says:

    Has anyone else noted that you seem to be turning into a series whore? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  12. C says:

    I didn’t like the romance in this book. I understand that being in love wouldn’t be the same as it is in the normal world (as Miranda mentions at one point) but one minute Miranda and Alex just don’t seem to get along but the next they’re acting like they’re madly in love – it just seemed awkward and fake to me. I’m not really a fan of romance though so that probably has something to do with it.

    I would have liked to have had some journal entries by Alex. To be honest, I was sometimes more interested in hearing about what he had to say than Miranda.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Susan Pfeffer wrote a fourth book, this one just seemed TOO open ended to be the final book.

    • I agree the feelings Miranda has for Alex go from one extreme to the other, but to me, that sounds a lot like how teenage love is.

      I agree, a fourth book sounds very possible!

  13. Deleon Perkins says:

    I have just finished the book myself, and i must say it was daring and exciting to bring the 2 families together in the third installment. But i disagree on the fact that the author was fatigued on the character or the events. I feel it was giving a turning point in the 3rd book. But i do agree the ending i felt was left open for a 4th book. It would be nice to see if they actually made it to Tennessee. And if the safe house was there or not… there’s interest for a 4th book

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