And so the nightmares continue.
After an asteroid collides with the moon, pushing it dangerously closer to Earth, all hell breaks loose — literally. Tsunamis ravage coastlines, killing many instantly. Volcanoes erupt globally, sending plumes of ash so thick into the air that the sun’s rays are completely blocked. Crops die. Water is contaminated. Illness spreads rapidly, crippling those already starving and sickened.
Sounds awesome, right?
Um. Okay, so definitely not awesome. But there’s something about Susan Beth Pfeffer’s novels that keeps me frantically turning the pages, even when I know I’m going to be up half the night quaking with nightmares.
The Dead And The Gone was no exception. After finishing Life As We Knew It last fall, I was absolutely sure I’d have to read this parallel story chroncling life for Alex Morales, but I was simply not up to it. Pfeffer’s first novel in a three-part series shook me to my very core, basically ruining me for other books. It was unbelievable. Gripping, terrifying, heartbreaking — and realistic. Through Miranda’s eyes, her small Pennsylvania town was transformed from a quaint locale into a minefield of misery. And I wasn’t ready to return to that place just yet. But when Steph Su agreed to do a read-along for the story with me, I pushed aside my fears and dove in.
In this, the second of Pfeffer’s books detailing the moon disaster, we leave Pennsylvania for nearby New York City — but the worlds couldn’t be any more different. At 17, Alex is the second-eldest son in a working-class Latino family, left to care for his two younger sisters Bri and Julie after his parents fail to come home in the early days of the tragedy. Unsure of where Mr. and Mrs. Morales could be and desperate for information, Alex, Bri and Julie must stay together in a dangerous city slowly seeping closer and closer to ruin.
It’s impossible for me to discuss The Dead And The Gone without comparing it to Life As We Knew It, though that’s not entirely fair. Just starting the second novel, the differences were glaring: particularly since this book is told in third person. In LAWKI, Miranda is our narrator — and that book is her very diary, sharing the day-to-day dramas and strife inherent with the scary, deteriorating conditions in which they lived. Because we’re never inside of Alex’s head, Pfeffer really doesn’t tell us much of what he’s feeling. And that’s what’s important about these books.
What makes the series so successful, to me, is the horrifying notion that what’s happening here could actually happen. Do we have any indication that our moon could be knocked out of orbit and pushed dangerously close to our world? No, I guess not. But, um, it could. And what makes the books un-put-down-able is the fear coursing through our veins, the literal shot of adrenaline pushing me onward to finish and find out what happened. And if I possibly could survive with my own meager stockpile of rations.
But I didn’t feel that here.
The Dead And The Gone was scary, yes, and far more grotesque than its predecessor. Some of the images Pfeffer describes won’t easily leave my brain, much more so than in LAWKI. The first novel was much more psychologically terrifying because I was so invested in Miranda, her brothers and her mother. Here? Alex proved himself to be a steadfast sibling and easily took over the responsibilities of caring for his younger sisters, but I just never felt what he felt. Things were happening around and to him and while I was completely invested in the events, I just never felt like I was sitting in a cramped room alongside him.
Religion played a much more prominent role in this book, too. The Morales siblings attend religious schools and rely heavily on their faith to guide them through the uncertainty in the wake of their parents’ disappearance. Through everything that befalls them, Bri never wavers in her belief that God would rescue and assist them — and bring their mother and father home. Normally I shy away from work which centers around religion, but I feel that Catholic faith was essential to the storyline and was done well.
Though I wasn’t as emotionally connected to this novel as I was to Life As We Knew It, The Dead And The Gone was still a fascinating and goosebump-creating to return to the dystopian world of Pfeffer’s creation. I’m absolutely dying to find out what happens in the third book in the series, This World We Live In (released April 1), and will look forward to reading it long into the night — just with all the lights on.
4 out of 5!