All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

on November 10, 2010

Life As We Knew It is written in the form of 15 year old Miranda’s diary. She’s about to finish her sophomore year of high school (or year 10 if you’re down under) and she’s mostly concerned about school things, friend-related things, ice-skating relating things (or a person in particular) etc. What she’s not concerned about is a meteor that is on it’s way through space that everyone is pretty sure is going to hit the moon. It gets a bare few mentions and then lots of complaining because all her teachers want to talk about is the moon and then they all give her assignments on the moon. Everyone seems quite excited about the meteor hitting the moon and everyone seems to be happy to line up outside and watch that.

Okay, seriously. I have to stop here and go why is everyone fricken excited about a METEOR hitting the moon? Do these people know nothing about the moon? The moon, up there in the sky, while it doesn’t look like it does much, does actually do things! Important things! And you would think that perhaps something hurtling through space and slamming into it, would do something quite dangerous. Like, oh, I don’t know… knocking it off its axis!

This is precisely what happens. All the astronomers who apparently didn’t see the cause for concern about the meteor and the moon meeting with a big bang, were wrong! The moon is knocked off its axis, closer towards Earth and suddenly, some hours after this event, there are reports of huge tidal waves down the east and west coast of America. Because you know, the moon controls the tides people! Has no one in this book seen the movie Armageddon? I know in that case, the meteor was on its way to collide with Earth, but they blew that sucker up before any of that could happen. Surely anyone with an education level past the sixth grade could realise a meteor hitting the moon could be potentially and most likely, catastrophic.

Despite this slightly ridiculous oversight, the book picks up a gear when the devastation starts. Miranda’s mother picks her and her younger brother up from school and takes them to the supermarket where, in light of the disaster, they are selling whole trolleys of goods for $100. They load up on everything canned, everything long life and Miranda goes along with this thinking that her mother has lost it a bit, but she humours her. Miranda’s mothers actions prove very insightful – pretty soon the huge effects of the meteor and the moon’s shift on its axis have rendered such devastation across the globe. There’s intermittent and random electricity. There are difficulties getting cable tv and any information. Petrol/gas shoots up to unbelievable prices as people stock up on everything they will need to get them through an apocalyptic event. The weather even changes – it is swelteringly hot through some of the summer and then the temperatures begin to dip alarmingly. The shift of the moon has caused volcanoes worldwide to erupt, even ones that have lain dormant for some time. The whole town is covered in a grey volcanic ash haze.

People begin to desert the towns in droves, heading south where they believe that conditions are better. Miranda and her family (her mother, younger brother and older brother home from college) stay put. Miranda’s mother tried to grow seedlings but the poor air quality and no rain meant that most of the crops perished. The canned goods are getting low alarmingly fast but the disaster shows no signs of abating. They begin to cut meals here and there, soon they are down to two meals a day. Then it’s one meal a day as things get worse and worse. They board up the windows of the house in winter (which has come early, as traditional seasons don’t seem to exist anymore) to conserve heat, they keep to one or two rooms. Eventually their water runs out and they are forced to use bedpans or buckets, as the modern cons of a bathroom don’t apply anymore.

Miranda’s diary entries were very effective in making me feel their plight. I was reading this book in bed at night and I was starving when I was reading how they were cutting down their meals and rationing their canned goods. I wanted to get up and eat everything in my cupboard because all I could think about was how hungry they must be and how terrible that would be. I began to think about what I would do in this sort of situation – would I be thoughtful enough to race to the supermarket and stock up on long life things? Would I be smart enough to remember things like candles and more blankets or quilts for when the ducted heating inevitably stopped working? I began to think about which room we would all hole up in and which parts of the house I would close off. I thought about how we would do washing and what we would do to pass the time with no television, no phone (or very rare phone) no petrol to get anywhere and no computer and internet (the answer to that one was fairly easy, given we own close to 700 books). I can see how people would go to bed when it was dark, simply because there was nothing to do and it was too cold to stay awake and do anything anyway.

This book did lack a bit of…. punch or something that would make it have more of an impact. I know we’re having this story narrated to us by a 15yo girl and most teenagers are relatively self absorbed, but the amount of time devoted to what else is occurring in the rest of the world. There’s brief mention of the American coasts and briefer mention of a few other places but at no time is an estimated death toll world wide given, at no time is ever devoted to thoughts of which countries might not even exist anymore. I think this would occupy my thoughts quite a lot (or perhaps not, because if anything like this ever did happen, chances are I wouldn’t make it as I live on the east coast of Australia, about 0 metres above sea level). It was a very effective way of making me feel their starvation and their isolation in life but after a while I kept turning pages thinking ‘is something going to happen now?’

As a narrative of the effects of a catastrophe on one person, it was incredibly effective. I could really feel Miranda’s experiences and although I didn’t always like her (or her mother actually) I definitely thought their actions and character were very real given the situation they were in the midst of. But I definitely expected a bit more about the devastation that had been rendered beyond the small area of her part of America. I thought that even though at first they had trouble getting news, that there would still be more information available and it would be discussed at length. But there’s almost no opinions on what has become of the rest of the world – it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. And I couldn’t help but feel that in such a global disaster, you’d think that the people involved would spare at least a thought for the rest of their planet.

6/10 – a mixed bag

This novel was included on the 50 YA Dystopian Novels on the list over at Bart’s Bookshelf for the YA Dystopian Challenge. For me personally, it’s not so much dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction is generally categorised as a featuring a society which is repressive or controlled, a lack of freedom or the ability to make your own decisions, a state of conflict, possible rationing of supplies or the basic human needs such as food, water, shelter, oil/gas/fuel for heating/etc  and a heavy and oppressive military or police force. Although this society in the novel is by no means ideal, and food becomes scarce, it is not through rationing or the direct actions or requests of the government or those in charge. In fact the government/powers that be play almost no part in this novel other than a couple of mentions of Presidential speeches when the catastrophe first happens and then a chance meeting with the town mayor at the end of the novel. For me this novel is post-apocalyptic speculative fiction, but that is of course, just my opinion and I’m sure many people would classify it otherwise.

As it’s on the list though, I’m including it as part of this challenge. This is the 6th book I’ve completed.

Book #90 of my 100 Book Challenge

2 responses to “Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

  1. I agree with you that this book needs a little bit more kick to it. I thought the premise was great though.

  2. Marg says:

    I liked this one a bit more than you did. I guess I accepted the fact that there was so little about the rest of the world because of how difficult it was to communicate outside.

    It did have me checking my cupboard to see how long I could possibly last. The answer was actually quite discouraging i.e. not long at all!

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