leedock’s CBR-III Review #18-“Life as We Knew It”, #19-“The Dead and the Gone”, #20-“This World We Live In” – Susan Beth Pfeffer

This trilogy is one of the winners in the mostly crap pile that resulted from my binge shopping at a recently closed local Borders. The premise sounds like the plot line from one of those SyFy (I can’t even type that without cringing. What were they thinking?) made for cable B movies, but bear with me. A meteor hits the moon, knocking it out of its normal orbit and closer to the earth. Very close-tsunamis in Manhattan, earthquakes in Iowa and random volcanic eruptions-close. The aftermath is seen mostly through the eyes of teenage protagonists as they struggle with their families to survive insane weather changes, dwindling food supplies, intermittent electricity, sickness and fear. I think my fascination for these stories lies in what I fear to be my complete inability to deal with catastrophic disaster. Perhaps I think I will pick up some tips here? First sign of anything going wonky, head to the grocery store and buy lots and lots of canned goods. And tampons. And toilet paper. And batteries. See, I have learned something.

“Life as We Knew It” follows Miranda and her family who live in rural Pennsylvania. Despite her mother’s wonderful foresight that had them immediately trolling supermarkets to hoard all the non-perishables that they could get, things go down hill relatively quickly. Written in journal form, Miranda’s entries mirror the decline of her world. At first, the impending natural phenomenon is deemed harmless. It’s just a reason for all of the neighbors to hang out in their yards on a warm spring night, looking at the sky. When it becomes obvious that the event did not occur as the scientists predicted, Miranda evolves from worrying about prom and her first kiss to making a single can of spinach last for several family meals.

The second book, “The Dead and the Gone”, follows the same disaster but through the eyes of a teenage boy, Alex, who is stranded in Manhattan with his two younger sisters. The urban story of survival, without much adult help, is a pretty stark one. While the decline in the city isn’t quite as quick as that of the rural story, the ugliness of people capitalizing on the suffering of others and the claustrophobia of being trapped on an island that has lost most of its land mass to tidal waves is a nice contrast to the quiet decline of the silent Pennsylvania countryside.

The last book in the trilogy, “This World We Live In,” joins the stories together as the year anniversary of the meteorite approaches. This one delves more into the purpose of survival. Is it futile to even try to survive and build as normal a life as possible in the face of such an uncertain future or is it better to die than to suffer what lies ahead?

Pfeffer wrote the first book in 2006, essentially ushering in the dark apocalyptic coming of age story that seems to be all the rage these days in YA. This is one of the well written ones. Her approach is mindful of its YA audience, but doesn’t dumb it down for them. It is always refreshing to  read books like this that don’t underestimate their audience.

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