Book: this world we live in
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Age Range: 12 and up
Background: I have an enormous backlog of books that I want to read. And yet, I don't spend as much time reading as I would like, in part because I spend so much of my non-work time rounding up Kidlitosphere and literacy news, writing posts for Booklights, sharing news on Twitter, etc. Sometimes I think that I'll never find the right balance.
However, every once in a while a book comes into my hands that I simply must read immediately, putting everything else aside. this world we live in, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, is such a book. My copy arrived yesterday afternoon. We had guests, but I still managed to sneak off to read for half an hour, before we had to go out for the evening. Yesterday, I ignored all of the other tasks clamoring for my attention, and sank down into the couch to read the rest cover to cover. I was not disappointed.
Review: Susan Beth Pfeffer's this world we live in is a sequel to both Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone. The prior two books were set in the same post-apocalyptic world, but in different cities, featuring different characters. (If you haven't read LAWKI and d&d, please do stop reading here and go find them.) this world we live in brings together Miranda and her family from Life As We Knew with Alex and Julia from the dead & the gone.
this world we live in begins a month after the end of LAWKI, and, like the prior book, is told in the form of diary entries from 17-year-old Miranda. Miranda is living with her mother and her two brothers in their home in a small Pennsylvania town. They've survived the first winter after a series of natural disasters rocked the world, blocked out the sun, and left food a rare and precious commodity. Miranda remains a moody teenager, chafing under her crowded living conditions, but trying to be a better person. However, the unknown fate of her father and pregnant stepmother haunts her dreams. I'm not going to talk any further about the details of the plot of this world we live in, because I would hate to spoil the book for anyone. But I will discuss my general reactions to the book.
Like the other two books in this series, this world we live in is a book that made me appreciate the things that I have. Right after finishing the book, I sat down and ate some cut-up fresh fruit and leftover macaroni & cheese. And I thought "oh, how Miranda would go crazy for this." this world we live in is also a book that made me think. I found myself lying in bed last night musing, "OK, but what's going to happen next? What will happen when society completely runs out of food from before the change in the moon? If you can't grow any food, because you have no sunlight, how can humanity continue at all?"
That's what makes this world we live in such a powerful book. The issues are compelling enough to evoke questions, while the characters are real enough to make the story resonate on a personal level. Of course, these attributes make it an excellent book for young adult readers, too.
Miranda is a particularly strong character. She is far from perfect. She fights with the mother who is basically starving herself to feed her children. She eavesdrops. She craves alone time. She resists her mother's reading assignments. But she also finds moments of joy in her bleak world. She learns that she loves breaking into abandoned homes and searching for useful supplies. She find instants of happiness while splashing through puddles. She is able to laugh at her family's situation (sometimes), and to laugh at herself. For example:
"I knew I wasn't going to win, and sulking and pouting would only make everybody mad at me. Which was a shame, because I used to be really good at sulking and pouting." (Page 22, ARC)
"I thought about how unlikely it was I would ever meet any guy, fall in love, get married, have babies. Especially since I was going to spend the rest of my life in the cellar, where, in the not too distant future, I'd turn into a toadstool. I hoped I'd be the poisonous variety." (Page 44, ARC)
"There is nothing more beautiful than half a roll of toilet paper." (Page 26, ARC)
Imagine a world in which no more toilet paper is being produced? Ugh! Pfeffer really gets down to the details of the slowly eroding civilization. Although less gory than the dead & the gone, I think that this world we live in is in some ways even more bleak. Certainly it is more introspective. This book isn't about the events of the apocalypse. It's about people learning to adapt to their changed reality and finding that spark within them that keep them moving forward, even when it doesn't seem worthwhile. While there are certainly moments of hope and sentimentality, the overall situation in Pfeffer's world is grim. Here is are a couple of passages that really stood out for me:
"After a while you get used to being cold, and hungry, and living in the dark.
But you can't get used to losing people. Or if you can, I don't want to. So many people in the past year, people I've loved, have vanished from my life. Some have died; others have moved on. It almost doesn't matter. Gone is gone." (Page 61, ARC)
"I thought about the earth then, really thought about it, the tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes, all the horrors I haven't witnessed but have changed my life, the lives of everyone I know, all the people I'll never know. I thought about life without the sun, the moon, stars, without flowers and warm days in May. I thought about a year ago and all the good things I'd taken for granted and all the unbearable things that had replaced those simple blessings. And even though I hated the thought of crying in front of Syl, tears streamed down my face." (Page 67, ARC).
Yes, Miranda has grown from the first book. Strictly speaking, it's not necessary to have read Life As We Knew It or the dead & the gone before reading this world we live in (though the mere presence of absence of characters in twwli is, of course, a spoiler for the prior books). Pfeffer refrains, for the most part, from talking about characters who died in the earlier books, even important characters, making this book accessible to new readers of the series. On its own, twwli has a bit of a feel of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (though things aren't as bleak as that). People are trudging along in an altered world, picking among the detritus of the prior civilization to find the things that they need to survive.
A couple of things in this world we live in didn't quite work for me. There's a love story that fell a bit flat for me (though I know that it's plausible that in a world with limited interaction, people will fall in love more quickly). There are more characters to keep track of, in contrast to the intimacy of the first two books, making it harder for any one character (besides Miranda) to have a strong impact. Although Alex appears in the book, and it's great to know what happened to him next, the fact that the book is told from Miranda's viewpoint results in Alex being kept at a distance. I'm not sure how that could have been avoided - the book clearly works best from Miranda's viewpoint - but I did find Alex a bit inaccessible.
But those are all minor points. None of them stopped me from reading the book in one sitting, thinking about it afterwards, and wishing that there would be other books about Miranda's world (though I don't think this is likely). This series has my top recommendation for teens and adults, especially for dystopia fans. Current fans of the series will not want to miss this world we live in, and will not be disappointed. Susan Beth Pfeffer is brilliant.
Publication Date: April 1, 2010
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: Becky's Book Reviews and Linda's Reading Blog (both with more details about the plot than I shared here)
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).