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The Shade of the Moon: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Book: The Shade of the Moon: Life As We Knew It Series, Book 4
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer (blog)
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

The shade of the moon is the fourth book in Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It series. Here are links to my reviews of the first three books: Life As We Knew It, the dead & the gone, and this world we live in. This review will contain spoilers of the earlier books. If you haven't read them, go now.

I loved Life As We Knew It. It's a post-apocalypse (while, during apocalypse) novel that I still think about sometimes, when I'm throwing away spoiled food, say, or watching a disaster movie. The main character, Miranda, started out a bit self-absorbed, but grew up over the course of the book. I liked book 2, the dead & the gone, very much, too. The second book featured a different character, Alex, and was set in New York (plenty of haunting imagery there). Book 3, in which Miranda and Alex ended up meeting, and falling in love, wasn't my favorite of the series, but I still found the world that Pfeffer created quite compelling. 

Book 4, the shade of the moon, is set 2-3 years after the events of this world we live in. The protagonist is Miranda's younger brother, Jon. Jon is living with his three-year-old half-brother, Gabe, and his stepmother, Lisa, in Sexton, an Enclave. The Enclaves are protected towns in which important people ("clavers") live, while most other survivors struggle to survive as "grubs". Basically, the clavers have rights and privileges, and the grubs don't. Jon, Lisa, and Gabe got in using "slips", special passes that Alex received in the dead & the gone, and gave to them as having the greatest need of the family. The remaining members of Jon's family, including Alex and Miranda (now married), live outside of Sexton, as grubs. 

I thought that Miranda was a little self-absorbed at the start of Life As We Knew It. But Jon is definitely worse. He's kind of a jerk, really, thinking of himself as inherently better than the grubs (some of whom are his relatives). And going along with some nasty things that his friends do, because his status as a "slip" is a bit more precarious than theirs. But starting out bad does give Jon plenty of room to improve over the course of the book. And he comes a long way. 

I think that Jon being, well, not such a nice guy muted some of the emotional resonance of the book for me. There's a scene in which Jon sees something devastating, and, well, I wasn't devastated. Because I wasn't in there with Jon, the same way I had been with Miranda and Alex in the first two books. Not until near the end of the book, anyway. 

And yet ... I read the shade of the moon in not much more than 24 hours, staying up late two nights in a row, which is a rare thing for me these days. I think that the societal aspects of the book are fascinating. How would people treat each other four years after a major apocalypse left billions dead? In a world of limited resources, would the dichotomy between the "haves" and the "have-nots" widen? Yes, I would think it would. Here's a key tidbit:

"But Jon knew better. Maybe everyone was equal, of had been before, but everyone didn't live equally. That was the way the system worked. Clavers had more because they deserved more. Grubs had only as much as they needed to survive, because their survival was important. Not essential, the way the claver survival was, but important enough to justify their being fed and sheltered. Grubs could be replaced. Clavers, except for Zachary's granddad, were irreplaceable." (Page 60-61)

Yikes! Tough times indeed. I think that giving Jon that perspective was the right choice on Pfeffer's part, because it was the strongest way to really get the point across to readers. But it did make me wonder a little why new girl Sarah, with different views, gave him the time of day. 

Pfeffer goes even further in making Jon a difficult protagonist. Without giving away any details, Jon is not a boy who treats girls well (at least at first). A brave choice on the author's part. Perhaps a learning opportunity for male readers (one can hope) on potential consequences (both for others, and for oneself, in terms of guilt). 

Personally, I think it's a testament to the power of the book, and the strength of Pfeffer's world-building, that I liked it in spite of Jon's flaws. I liked it better than this world we live in, actually. Perhaps because of the larger themes. 

the shade of the moon ends on a note of hope. Personally, I hope to see another book in the series in the future (though it's not necessary - things wrap up reasonably well in this book). Perhaps jumping forward a few years, until Gabe is a teen... 

Publisher: Harcourt (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook