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.  

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 19

In this 19th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs, we hear from Sarah of the terrific blog, The Last Book I Read.  Here she talks about the book club she formed with other stay at home moms in her area.

I started my book club a little over a year ago.  As a stay at home mom of a then almost two year old I was craving the company of other women during the day who could talk about something other than their kids.  I went to a playgroup which I enjoyed, but I wanted a playgroup for ME.  And, while I have other girlfriends that I swap books with and talk books with all the time, I needed something in person and I wanted something during the daytime.  I wasn’t looking to get out of the house, but I was looking for better conversation.

So, I asked a couple friends and I put up a little sign and soon enough we had a group of 4.  We try to meet once a month and whoever hosts the group at her house gets to pick the book and also lead the discussion.  When we meet the kids go off and play together while we get to talk about the book.  We’re pretty informal-don’t really have any rules and it’s agreed that if you haven’t finished the book that’s ok.

One of the things I like about our group is that I think we don’t have the same exact reading tastes.  We like enough of the same books that it’s not a chore to read the month’s book (well, that’s not exactly always true), but we’ve all also been pushed into trying new things.  I prefer to choose books that we haven’t read before but it often happens that someone chooses a book she’s read before and wants the others to try.

Some of our selections have been The Memory Keeper’s DaughterNights of Rain and StarsWhen Rabbit Howls, Captain Corelli’s MandolinBelong to MeThe RoadThree Junes, and The Ice Queen.

Although it was not my intent at all, something that has naturally occurred is that we often talk about how we responded to a book as a mother of a young child.  For example, in our conversation about The Memory Keeper’s Daughter* we all found the deception of telling a mother her child had died was practically unbearable to contemplate.  Since having kids I’ve found myself even more emotional about death/kids/families in novels than I used to be (and that’s saying something because I’m an easy crier at books.)  My book group has shown me that I’m not the only one who’s become so sensitive to those topics.  [Our upcoming discussion is about Belong To Me, during which I cried and cried at the friend’s death imagining myself dying with my children around me.]

*(I like to steer clear of Oprah books when it comes to my picks, but we’ve actually read quite a few of them.  I hate to admit it but they usually are really easy to talk about and universally liked by us. I just have a thing about reading what everyone else reads.)

As a YA librarian I wanted to introduce my friends to some YA lit and chose Speak for my first book.  I thought the discussion we had about this book was one of our best yet.  A YA buddy had suggested it as being a good one for women to discuss because no matter who we are or were it was likely we could all think back to being a teenage girl and feelings of isolation.  This proved to be true!  I am looking forward to introducing some more YA titles into our mix, perhaps some Sarah Dessen or Shannon Hale.  I also think maybe we should try some sci-fi or fantasy since that is a genre we haven’t yet discussed.

We’ve definitely had some flops.  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was only read by one of us.  Two of us couldn’t get more than two chapters in.  When Rabbit Howls was so interesting in concept, but in reality nobody could get through it.  It was one of those books that you like someone to tell you about, but it turns out that that’s enough. And even though it’s topped book lists galore for the past two years not one of us liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Nickel and Dimed was another choice that really prompted conversation.  Truthfully, though, our conversation ended up being a lot more about what we thought about Ehrenreich, cleaning services, and the economy, and not so much about the book as a work of writing.  I think sometimes that happens with non-fiction choices– you don’t talk about it as a book per se, but just about the content.

Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to post about my book group.  I hope it encourages other stay at home moms to form their own groups!

Blogger Bio:  My name is Sarah, I’m a thirty-six year old young adult librarian, who is presently a stay-at-home mom. I have two children, aged  three and 9 months.  We live in central New Jersey in a beautiful area with lots of fields and farms.  I’ve been an avid reader since childhood.  I read a ton of ya books (hence, ya librarian), but I do like adult books too. I like historical romances, general fiction, and anything set in a boarding school! My blog is The Last Book I Read.

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win The Safety of Secrets by DeLaune Michel, click HERE