I wanted to read Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It from the moment I first heard about it. I finally downloaded it from Audible.com a couple of weeks ago. I generally only listen to books while I'm out walking. I find that a good book can keep me going for much longer than I would stay out otherwise. Let's just say that Life As We Knew It is so good that I literally had joint pain, because I couldn't bring myself to stop listening.
Life As We Knew It is a post-apocalypse story, told from the viewpoint of a teenage girl named Miranda. I have a weakness for post-apocalypse stories (see here for details), and this one did not disappoint. The story begins with everyone in Miranda's small Northeastern Pennsylvania town fascinated by an imminent galactic event. An asteroid is slated to strike the moon. There are block parties, as people gather outside to watch. However, the asteroid is heavier than anticipated, and jolts the moon right out of its orbit. This leads to a host of environmental problems, beginning with huge tsunamis that strike both coasts of the US. Things get gradually worse from there, as society deteriorates, and resources become scarcer and scarcer.
The book chronicles, via Miranda's journal entries, the struggle of her family, and her town, to survive. Despite being a relatively sweeping topic (the devastation of the world), the canvas for the story is actually quite small. Most of the action takes place within the family's home. While the larger aspects of the story (What climactic event will happen next? How will the town deal with looters?) are fascinating and disturbing, what really makes the book compelling is the intimate portrayal of Miranda's internal growth.
Miranda starts out a typical teenager, railing against her mother's unfairness over not being able to take skating lessons. When privations start, she complains about her mother's more generous treatment of her younger brother, and fantasizes about going to stay with her father, in a happier and more abundant environment. She is initially sheltered from the worst news by her mother and older brother, and goes through a realistic (though not whiny) "what about me" phase. But as circumstances worsen, Miranda gradually and believably rises to the challenges expected of her.
This book is quite bleak. People all over the world are dying. People in Miranda's life are leaving. First modern conveniences, and then basis essentials, are stripped away. But there are moments of brightness, to contrast with the bleakness. The family learns to appreciate small things, and to rely on one another. Their joy, at times, over things that would have once seemed trivial, brought tears to my eyes. The end does include a hint of hope, which is something to hold onto as you read.
Life As We Knew It is a book that will make you appreciate what you have, without ever feeling like the idea has been forced upon you. I was literally rendered hungry just from listening, at times. I found myself looking at the blue sky, and the green trees, and my glass of red wine, with a new appreciation. This is also a book that will make you think, pondering those what-if sorts of questions. What would I be willing to do to survive? Who would I give up my own life for? How would you keep basic social rules from crumbling in circumstances like this? Ultimately, it's a book that will make you care about Miranda and her family, and empathize with their struggles.
The audio book was for the most part satisfying and well-paced. I at first found the narrator's voice to be a bit too chirpy and high-pitched, making Miranda feels younger than she needed to be. And the male voices didn't sound very male. But I got used to it, and when Miranda's voice did eventually flatten later in the story, it made her depression stand out all the more. And the great thing about listening to a book like this (as opposed to reading it) is that you're really inside the story, surrounded by it, living and breathing the world of the book.
I highly, highly recommend this book to fans of science fiction, and especially the to fans of the dystopian/post-apocalypse genre. Life As We Knew It is a well-written and gripping addition to the cannon of such titles. I also think that any thinking person could benefit from reading it, for the perspective that it sheds on our dependence on the environment, and on what we would be willing to do to survive. I can't wait for the promised companion title, still being worked on by Susan Beth Pfeffer.
Book: Life As We Knew It
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer (See also an interview with Susan Beth Pfeffer at SciFi.com)
Narrator: Emily Bauer
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Original Publication Date: October 2006
Pages: 352 (though I listened on MP3)
Age Range: 14 and up
Source of Book: Downloaded from Audible.com
Other Blog Review and Discussion: Propernoun.net, This Just In (where Katherine calls it "is my personal “most compulsively read so far this year” book"), Pixie Stix Kids Pix (Kristen's first posted review), Sara's Hold Shelf, Shaken & Stirred, Emily Reads (a Haiku review), OMS Book Blog, interactivereader, Si, Se Puede and bookshelves of doom (and doubtless many others). I was also pleased to learn from Gail Gauthier that the author is working on a companion book to go with this one. This book was shortlisted for the Andre Norton award.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.