Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Life As We Knew It is most certainly a page-turner! Its storyline is one that has been very popular lately: There is a catastrophic event and the world changes forever. We see this over and over again today in Zombie lore, books like The Road, and movies like The Day After Tomorrow. It addresses questions such as “What would people do in this situation?” or “How would humanity cope?” Ultimately, it is a book about familial love and survival.
In the book, a meteor hits the moon and moves it closer in orbit to the earth. This change throws off all the tides and shifting of the earth’s crust leading to widespread volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Plus, with electricity soon gone, people must figure out food, water, and heating. Many people move, many others die of sickness and starvation. There are no more policemen to enforce citizens’ protection, and schools struggle to stay open. As winter hits with a fury, people must hope they have enough wood and food to make it through.
Characters (Spoilers Included FYI):
The main character, Miranda, is a teenage girl struggling with relatable issues for teenagers and selfish tantrums most parents of teenagers have witnessed. I found that she grew a bit annoying at times, but I also thought that about Katniss in the Hunger Games. If anything, that makes the main characters more human, relatable, and at the end of the day . . . a teenager!
Miranda’s parents are divorced and she lives primarily with her mother, younger brother Jon, and older brother Matt. Her father and his new, expectant wife play a role in her life, but in the story they end up packing up and driving West, so their interactions are limited (at least until the sequel, I am told). Miranda’s mother is a writer. She is a strong, organized, loving mother. She has her moments of angry outbursts, like her daughter. But considering the stress and turmoil they are facing, she handles the hardships like a true leader and protector of her family.
Miranda’s brother Jon is the youngest, most fit, and healthiest. They work hard to keep him that way. While the family goes without food, they always try to let Jon eat more. Matt is a great comfort to his mom and siblings. He is insightful, smart, strong, and hardworking. In many ways, he steps up and fills the gap left by their father. Throughout the novel, it is evident that Miranda admires Matt and feels safer when he is around.
Outside of the family, there is only a handful of characters: their neighbor Mrs. Nesbitt, her mother’s boyfriend Peter, Miranda’s boyfriend Dan, and her friends Sammi and Megan. Mrs. Nesbitt is considered family by them because she has always been a part of their lives. They look out for her until she dies quietly in her sleep. Peter is a doctor and he does his best to look out for their family (his daughters died when the moon moved in and caused disaster). However, the hospital is flooded with patients, and he can rarely get away. Eventually, he dies of the flu in the hospital. Miranda only “dates” Dan for a short while. They skate together and sneak into the woods to kiss. It is a short relationship. His family buys him a motorcycle and insists he move South.
Miranda’s friends Sammi and Megan are polar opposites and both struggling with extremes that frustrate Miranda. Since their mutual friend died of sickness before all the disasters started, they have grown apart. Sammi is always dating a new guy and flaunting it. She is also known for sleeping around. She ends up leaving town with a middle-aged man who helps her family and promises her a better life. It is all kind of funky, and it is implied that he is also gaining “something” in return. Megan becomes an “extreme Christian,” the cultish kind that say and do crazy things and give Christians a bad name. She, and many others, are essentially brainwashed by their pastor. She goes down a dark path starving herself “for Jesus” and when she dies, her mother commits suicide.
The novel is pretty clean as far as language and sexual content is concerned. There is nothing terrible to mention. The only thing I did not like was the portrayal of Megan, the Christian friend. It was such a fanatical image. I kept thinking, “I have only met a couple people this extreme and I’ve been a Christian my whole life!” I found it an annoying and unfortunate stereotype. Plus, Miranda’s family is not religious, at least they never acknowledge any religion or God. The book also deals with death, but it is not gruesome or graphic.
There is a survival theme involving the indifference of nature, or man vs. nature. The book illustrates how even the powerful governments are helpless in the face of world-wide catastrophe. However, it is the every day people who must pick up and find a way to survive. The bleak new circumstances also put people’s humanity to the test. I thought it was interesting and accurate that people did not help each other out at all, unless they are family, or practically family. Everyone looks out for their own and is very secretive about how much food and wood they still have. Familial love is also a major theme, as is maturity, since Miranda and Jon are both forced to mature in ways they never have before.
Recommendation and Educational Value:
As far as content goes, this book would be readable for any high school student, and depending on their reading level, even middle school students. It is a book that you can loose yourself in for hours, and the plot carries you away. It is realistic in how it handles the conflict, which I appreciated. While it is not making my “favorites” list anytime soon, it is an enjoyable read that makes you think about what your family would do in a similar situation. This book also has sequels that I am interested in reading sometime: The Dead & Gone, The Shade of the Moon, and The World We Live In.
The whole series would make a great Christmas gift if you have a teenager who loves to read! If you are unsure whether they would like the book or not, start with Life As We Know It and see what they think! You can find the whole series in my amazon store, plus Amazon has Life As We Knew It for a great price . . . only $6.00! If you would like to use it in your homeschooling curriculum, Amazon has a teacher guide unit study on this book as well as a student packet. I do think it would make an interesting book to read and then research. I found myself wondering what the likelihood of it actually happening was from a scientific point-of-view. Could the moon move closer to the earth if hit by a meteor? If it did, would it have these types of effects on the weather?
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Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it?
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