All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Dead And The Gone – Susan Beth Pfeffer

on December 15, 2010

Right. So a month ago, way back in early November, I read Life As We Knew It which was the first of a trilogy. I checked out all 3 novels from the local library at the same time but I had to set them aside after reading the first one and get cracking on a few other challenges and some other books made it to the top of the TBR pile. But when my son was asleep today I was looking for something that’d be a quick read so I picked up the second novel – The Dead And The Gone.

The Dead And The Gone basically tells of the same events from another person’s point of view in a different part of America. Alex Morales is a 17yo Peurto Rican high school junior when the moon is hit by the meteor that knocks it off its axis and causes carnage all over the world. Huge tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, a death toll in the millions, food shortages, rioting, looting, etc. Alex has two younger sisters Briana and Julie who he must assume sole responsbility for as his parents are missing from the first day. His father was in Peurto Rico for a funeral and Peurto Rico, being a very tiny island, was believed to be pretty much decimated. Alex’s mother worked as a theatre technician at St John of God Hospital in Queens. She was on duty when the chaos began and isn’t heard from or seen again.

This book, although not containing any of the characters from Life As We Knew It assumes a knowledge of that one because barely anything is stated about the moon other than a passing sentence or two after the asteroid collision actually occurs. Alex himself seems to have almost no knowledge of it, which I find odd given he is a junior at a relatively strict and well-staffed religious school. When the fallout occurs, Alex must keep himself and his sisters alive, fed and out of danger in a city that is both out of control and slowly dying. He gets the opportunity to send one sister away, upstate to a more country location where she will work in a convent, tending the vegetables and animals, helping the nuns. She will be well fed and as she is quite devout, Alex is happy to send her, knowing that she will be cared for. That leaves him with just 12yo Julie, pricklier than her sister but also tougher. They survive well enough at first but it isn’t long before the food starts to dwindle and Alex is forced to do desperate and appalling but necessary things to keep them fed, the strain even worse when Briana returns from the convent after the ash in the air makes it impossible to farm. She develops adult-onset asthma and the air is killing her. Alex knows they need to get out of the city and he might even know someone that can make it happen for them. If everything goes their way.

This novel also does away with the diary format of the first and it’s told in the third person although we’re only ever with Alex and his point of view. Alex is a mature and more capable person than most at 17. The head of their family now with their parents gone and their elder brother in the Marines apparently deployed somewhere in Texas just after the disaster, he quickly steps up and does all that he needs to to keep the family going. He enforces going to school (although he meets no resistance from Julie as the school feeds them lunch everyday and it’s a meal they desperately need). It’s kind of like he’s some sort of adult masquerading as a teenager and he acts a bit like Miranda’s mother from the first novel – both are disturbingly similar in their self-sacrificing ways so that others in the family can have more food. He’s also ridiculously clueless about what is termed ‘women’s work’ such as cooking and cleaning. He states unapologetically that even after their mother got a diploma and became a theatre nurse, she still did the cooking and the cleaning and Papi, who was a janitor for their building, did none of that sort of thing. It’s all very ‘haha Papi was a man! He didn’t do the women’s work!” jokey and there’s a startling moment late in the book where Alex doesn’t know how to cook macaroni. Even if you’ve never done it, surely everyone over the age of six knows how to cook macaroni! Instead he goes out in the book and does the ‘men’s work’ by bartering things and stealing things to barter for food and bringing home the bacon as such, while he designates the cooking to his sisters. I don’t know a lot about Peurto Rican society, I’ve probably never met a Peurto Rican in my life. They may be that patriarchal and gender-ensconced but seriously…how does a 17yo boy not know how to make such a simple thing? It was mind boggling.

Being Peurto Rican’s they’re also very devout Catholics! If I had a dollar for every time it was mentioned how proud Mami would be about them praying, or going to church in sub-zero weather, or taking confession, or whatever, I would probably be rich! The religious aspect of this book got a bit wearing at times. I’m not religious and I don’t enjoy reading novels with a lot of religious references and activities. I don’t particularly see how the repetiveness of it added to the story either.

There were several similarities to the first novel: firstly one family member is sent ‘away’, presumably to somewhere better, with more food. Then when that family member returns, other family members sacrifice food so that they may eat more. It was thinly plausible in the first novel and even less so in this one. Also, the schools staying open, and feeding the children, also seemed a bit unlikely. I know the Catholic Church is one of, if not the, richest institution in the world but if this really just seemed like a way to get the children a meal a day without the author having to think too much about it. Kids staying in an apartment without their parents…are they seriously going to go to school of their own accord? Alex even studies when there’s no electricity and he can barely see! The world may be in chaos but hey – you will still learn your simultaneous equations. Also both Miranda and Alex were able to stock up on a fairly decent sized amount of food before the rush which meant that they were set for at least a little while, with lots of canned goods. In reality, I don’t know how likely it would be that people would just be either the first ones at the supermarket loading trolleys, or just lucky enough to have an uncle that ran a small grocery and gave you food!

Because of New York’s location, and from what was mentioned in the first novel (and that wasn’t much, one of my nitpicks in the first novel was Miranda not even being remotely curious about the rest of the world) was that New York seemed decimated. Huge tidal waves almost destroyed the city and yet Alex appears to…sleep through the tidal waves and the floods. His building is unaffected, his general area is unaffected, although the subways are flooded and closed. I saw the havoc the tsunami’s wreaked on Boxing Day in 2004 and it was utter devastation. Instead Alex negotiates New York City with ease and takes specially organised buses mere days after the event. It just seems like that for something of that grand scale, there’d be a lot of debris and clean up – buildings would be reduced to rubble, infrastructure destroyed. It doesn’t seem like anything like this actually occurs.

While this novel was a quick and easy read, it wasn’t necessarily a gripping one. I felt mostly detachment – I couldn’t get into caring that much about Alex, or about his sisters. Alex was too bland – I learned nothing about him whatsoever apart from the fact that he couldn’t cook and went to a handful of baseball games during his lifetime. There were no interactions with girls, not even the suggestion that he’d spoken to one he wasn’t related to in years. His friendships seemed vague until after the event and then they were just deus ex machinas to move things along and help Alex get what he needed at certain times. Julie, the youngest sister was a little too bratty to be likable or sympathetic and Briana was the devout one so I tended to skim over much of what she said as it involved a whole lot of praying to the Holy Mother.

Overall this is just an okay read for me. Pleasant enough to finish but not something I love. Or would go back to and read again.


Book #114 of 2010

I’m including this as one of my reads for the YA Dystopian Fiction challenge hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf even though like the first novel, I don’t really consider it to be Dystopian. This is the 8th novel I’ve completed for the challenge.

2 responses to “The Dead And The Gone – Susan Beth Pfeffer

  1. Chrizette says:

    I have read the first book LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and absolutely loved it. After reading your review, I am reluctant to start the second book. I might have to read it just to see if I agree with you 🙂

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