As if I wasn’t completely freaked out after reading this book, I had to come across THIS gem of a story while I innocently attempted to check my e-mail yesterday.
Really, world? We have to punch the moon? Have you not read Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It?! Because if those folks at NASA had come across this startling, hauntingly realistic young adult novel, I don’t know if they’d be making quite the same call!
Pennsylvanian teen Miranda is grappling with the usual issues of high school-related drama — and dealing with her changing family. Her father’s new wife is pregnant with their first child, and Lisa has asked her stepdaughter to be the child’s godmother. Miranda feels justifiably torn but agrees, and life continues in Howell, Pa., for Miranda, her mother and brothers Matt and Jonny. Until a meteor knocks the moon — our moon – closer to the Earth, drastically altering its gravitational pull. And then nothing is the same.
Life As We Knew It is Miranda’s diary — her chronicle of deteriorating conditions as earthquakes rock the U.S. (and rest of the world), unexpected volcanoes crop up and bury the world in ash and supplies become scarce. As with many natural disasters, no one is immediately aware just how bad things are . . . or how bad they’re going to get. The weather is still warm when the first tsunamis hit, wiping out much of the coasts, so questions of survival in the isolated, freezing Pennsylvanian town where the family lives don’t immediately crop up. But the strange, serene and almost idyllic life that immediately follows news of the disaster gives way to something much more intense — and terrifying.
What bothered me most about this book was how absolutely, completely real it felt. Miranda’s voice — at times angry, sad, resigned, bewildered, elated, enraged — rang as clear as a bell. I guess because I spent my late teens and early adulthood in a post-9/11 world, the slightest news of disaster and uncertainty brings me right back to that day, and I feel, personally, that I live in a state of hyper-awareness. Watching Miranda’s family stockpile food and supplies and seal themselves off from the world, becoming a unit and hoping only to live, despite everything, forced a pit to open in my stomach.
By turns frightening and life-affirming, Life As We Knew It is a masterpiece. Pfeffer’s language is eloquent without becoming clunky or condescending; Miranda sounds — and acts — like a “normal” teenage girl. We also get a glimpse into how religious beliefs play a part in the fear and grieving process of those “left behind” following the meteor’s impact, and I spent a good deal of time remembering how busy Sunday services seemed to get after 9/11. When faced with something beyond our control or comprehension — something looming, something horrifying — people react in a variety of ways. I’m certainly no sociologist, and I know Pfeffer doesn’t claim to be one, either, but she paints a picture of the various coping mechanisms with a deft hand. Miranda takes comfort in the fact that even though her own world becomes smaller and smaller, a larger one still exists . . . and is hopefully going to continue on, even without her. Not to draw a heartless parallel here, but that definitely reminded me of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl whose diary written during her family’s time of hiding during the Holocaust has become such a moving, iconic glimpse into a terrible time in history. If the moon disaster were “real,” I have no doubt that Miranda’s journal would take on a similar feel. Although the Holocaust was a horrific act of human consciousness and, you know, the moon thing . . . would not be. But you catch my drift (I hope!).
There’s so much I could say about this novel — and so much I want to say — but I can’t give anything away! I read furiously, desperate to figure out how they were going to survive this mess . . . and though the novel ends with many questions, I had enough answers that I felt a sense of closure and could move on. Pfeffer’s companion novel the dead and the gone follows Alex, a New Yorker who must protect his sisters after tsunamis wipe out much of Manhattan. As much as I loved Life As We Knew It, I’m not eager to return to the dystopia of disaster-ridden Earth any time soon . . . my poor, tender heart needs time to recover.
If you’re a fan of dystopian literature, post-apocalyptic tales, family dynamics and stories of the tenacious human spirit, please don’t miss this one. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to look at the moon the same way again!
4.75 out of 5!