Review: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

imagesLife as We Knew It is written as the journal of high school junior Miranda.  Life in her small Pennsylvania town isn’t perfect- her best friends are bugging her and she’s not sure she even likes them much anymore.  One has become a born again Christian and the other one is really into boys.  Her dad’s new wife is pregnant and giddy and that’s bugging her too.  She wants to start ice skating lessons again but her mom wants her to continue on the swim team.  To top it all off, there’s this “moon thing”.  At first it barely gets a mention in her journal, but then her teachers start piling on more homework about the moon.  Annoying!

An asteroid is scheduled to hit the moon on Wednesday, May 18th, around 9:30pm.  The teachers are all talking about the moon- even her French teacher- and giving out assignments about it- three different essays are due on Friday.  Why are they making such a fuss? 

When the big night arrives, Miranda’s mom makes a plate of cookies and the family gathers around CNN to see what’s going on.  Just before the lunar event, they take lawn chairs and the cookies out to their front yard, along with binoculars and a telescope.   Neighbors are barbequeing and it’s a party atmosphere up and down the street.  Miranda’s brother, manning the binoculars, shouts that the asteroid is coming.  A hush falls over the neighborhood as everyone looks skyward and sees it streaking across the sky, smaller than the moon but bigger than anything else they’d ever seen in the sky.  There are cheers when it makes impact, but then the cheers stop and there are screams of “Oh my God!”  

From Miranda’s journal:

 “But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore.  It was tilted and wrong and a three quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, large like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising.  It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible.  You could see details on the craters even without the binoculars that before I’d seen with Matt’s telescope.” 

The moon, pushed off its axis and out of its orbit, wreaks havoc on the earth’s environment.  Tsunamis destroy the eastern seaboard, killing millions.  Terrifying thunderstorms knock out power sporadically.  It’s hard to get news of what’s going on.  Miranda goes to school the next day but it’s anything but typical.  Her mom comes to get her and they race to the grocery store with hundreds of dollars in cash, buying everything in sight that they might possibly need in the foreseeable future, taking purchases to the car then returning for more.  The panic is palpable. 

As the world changes, Miranda and her family learn to survive with few resources, no heat or electricity, and a dwindling food supply.  There are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in other areas of the country and around the world, with ash traveling for miles and blocking the sun, causing temperatures to plummet and creating an Arctic winter.  We hear about many of these things as information from Miranda’s mom after she listens to the radio, etc., making it a lot less terrifying to read then it would be if Miranda were seeing things firsthand.  

Miranda is forced to grow up quickly.  She and her family are strong in the face of enormous challenges.  They are determined to survive in a world that has become unrecognizable.  They do what needs to be done to take care of themselves and each other.  Miranda amazes herself at what she is able and willing to do for the people she loves. 

Life As We Knew It reminded me of The Road in a number of ways.  There is a major, life changing, worldwide event (in The Road, we never learn what that is- in this book, we do).  The world is gray and covered in ash.  But unlike The Road,  Life As We Knew It offers hope- the world will never be the same, but perhaps they can learn to live in it.  It allows us to really know the people involved (in The Road, the main characters are referred to as ‘the man’ and ‘the boy’).  We really feel their emotions.  It was so realistic, which made it all the more frightening.  The moon event, while highly unlikely, is something we can all imagine happening. 

I was totally engrossed in this book.  Among many other things, it made me think about how woefully unprepared we are for any sort of major emergency.  It made me think about our resources and the food we eat (and waste).   It caused me to wonder about the nature of our environment, the delicate balance we take for granted every single day.  How one thing, one event, can change our lives permanently.   And how through love and determination we can survive just about anything. 

This is an amazing YA book that I would recommend for ages 13 and up.  Kids any younger than that might be frightened by it. 

I LOVED Life As We Knew It and HIGHLY recommend it!!  It would be great for book clubs, especially mother/daughter book clubs (if the kids are old enough).  Please let me know if you read it and I will link your review here.