Book review: ‘The Dead And The Gone’ by Susan Beth Pfeffer

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!

ISBN: 0547258550 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library

Book review: ‘Life As We Knew It’ by Susan Beth Pfeffer

life_as_we_knew_itAs 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!

ISBN: 0152061541 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog