Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life As We Knew It
I never knew I could love so deeply. I never knew I could be so willing to sacrifice things for other people. I never knew how wonderful a taste of pineapple juice could be, or the warmth of a woodstove, or the sound of Horton purring, or the feel of clean clothes against freshly scrubbed skin.

It wouldn't be New Year's without a resolution. I've resolved to take a moment everyday for the rest of my life to appreciate what I have.

I put off reading Life As We Knew It, because I only had a vague idea of what it was about and I thought it was about the world suddenly going dark. (no electricity). I had already read a Christian fiction series along the same lines (Terri Blackstock's Restoration series ) and so I wasn't sure what Life As We Knew It would offer that was new.

Well, that's not exactly the premise behind Life as We Knew It. What actually happens in this book, is that an asteroid hits the moon forcing it closer to earth. And that throws everything off and out of balance. The moon is responsible for so many things as it turns out, so there are huge tidal waves, volcanoes erupting, earthquakes occuring. And each one of these things has many repercussions that reach far and wide.

Life as We Knew It is told in sixteen year old Miranda's diary. Which is a stroke of pure genius because it elevates the tension and suspense and gives us the very closest look at the inner working of someone's mind during this time. It's very intense. I felt what Miranda was feeling while I read, and I become deeply invested in her outcome because I felt I knew everything about her heart.

In some ways it is similar to other disaster stories as they ration out food. But the complete unknown makes for a compelling read as Miranda battles with a variety of emotions in dealing with this global crisis for survival while also just growing up. You know, falling for a boy, dealing with sibling rivalry, that sort of thing. Miranda is just a typical first world teenager and the very fact that her family is in survival mode is all very new to her.

This is a gut-wrenching page turning read. But I did have some questions. One think I couldn't understand was how they were still getting mail. With gas being at a premium and no electricity it seemed impossible there was any way to keep the mail system going for as long as they did. But I think that part of the beauty of this book was that the reader really knows no more than Miranda does. You're very much in the situation with her and so there were obviously conditions the reader doesn't know about. I imagine that Pfeffer had to have the world more fully realized in her head, in order to zero in on just one story and I guess I'm right because there's a companion book of an entirely different story out now.

Another thing that made me really sad was the portrayal of the Christians. I should be clear that I understand that all churches are not created equal and the kind of Christians and church that Miranda encountered would probably exist during a crisis like this. But it still makes me really sad. That was one of the things I loved about reading this kind of story from a Christian perspective was the struggle the Christians had in doing the right thing and being the church when they were fighting for their own survival. (do you hoard your food or share with your neighbor?) So while I understand why Pfeffer chose to portray the "Christians" this way, I wish there could have been like, one normal one.

But apart from those small issues I really liked this book so much. It will stick with you. It will inspire you to stock up on nonperishables and water and move someplace south (where there is still water!) It will absolutely break your heart over and over again and remind you about what's important in life. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.75/5
Publisher: Harcourt
Source of Book: I bought it!

This is my first book read for Dewey's Books Challenge!

This book did make me think about how there are millions of people who are starving to death every single day. There are families living in apocalyptic conditions in our world right now. Those of us who eat three times a day are highly privileged. This was a great reminder of that.



Sandy Nawrot said...

That seems like it would be a great balance between something that truly scares me half to death and the attitude of a teen. Whenever this topic comes up, I bury my head in the sand, knowing I would be one of the first ones killed because I live in Florida! Everyone knows the peninsula would probably disappear if we got big waves! Aaaack! I would LIKE to think that the Christians would hold their moral ground, but sadly I'm not sure if enough of them would. What an impactful book!

Michelle said...

I enjoyed this book as well. But I tend to love the dystopian end of the world stuff no matter what. ;)

I'm sorry the portrayal of Christians in this novel didn't work well for you. I agree that aspect was a bit cliched -- though I don't have much experience in these types of end of world situations I like to think regardles off religion people would come together. But, I suspect that the author chose that path to showcase the decisions Miranda's friend (whose name is escaping me right now) was making.

I've got the second book in the trilogy sitting on my shelf to read. It is the same event told through the eyes of a boy in a big city (NY I believe). It will be interesting to see where the differences are.

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

I bought this to read during the Read-a-thon. It's been really hard not starting it because I've heard some amazing things about it.

Anonymous said...

This review reminds me why I love reading book blogs - I love reading reviews that zero in on aspects of books I never thought much about. I found this book incredibly upsetting because the early parts of the disaster are so similar to my memories of the hurricanes in 2005. That part of the book was so emotionally wrenching for me that I hardly even thought about the portrayal of Christians. But you're right, it is one-sided, and not very nice to see. Disasters like this can bring out that religious unpleasantness that Pfeffer highlights, but also such incredible bravery and selflessness. This almost (but not quite) makes me want to read it again, to think about this side of things.

Tasha said...

Do you plan to read The Dead & The Gone as well?

Becky said...

Amy, I'm glad you read this one. It's one of my favorite books :)

About the portrayal of Christians, I think that type of church exists even when it isn't the end of the world. (A church that worships a charismatic leader more than they do God). I never felt that this was supposed to represent mainstream Christianity.

The companion book, The Dead and the Gone, paints Christianity in a completely different light. It's amazing how night/day the difference is between the two. In that one we see the church acting like the church: selfless, putting others first, being compassionate, etc. It was amazing to me to see the church act so Christ-like.

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds like one that my whole family would enjoy. It sounds like it makes you think about the way you would handle a crisis.

Unknown said...

I listened to this one on audiobook, and of course the diary format really suited it! (and the narrator did a great job as well. And it definitely helped ramp up the tension and fear Miranda feels through out the book.

Zibilee said...

My daughter just read this book and made a beautiful poster of the cover for her reading class. I think it sounds like a great read, and your review has really made me curious about it. I think I am going to ask her if I can borrow her copy. Great review, and thanks!

Rhiannon Hart said...

I adored this book. It was heartbreaking and gripping at the same time. I bawled in several places.

Debbie's World of Books said...

I loved this book although I was disturbed for awhile and wanted to go stock up on food and water. :) Can't wait for the third book in January to find out what happens later with the characters.

Ti said...

I may buy this one. My son mentioned it the other day and I figure if he reads it, then I can read it too and we'll get more bang for the buck ;)

Ana S. said...

This book literally gave me nightmares. I loved it, though, and your final paragraph is spot on. It definitely made me appreciate the fact that I have access to food and water, and good living conditions.

Dani In NC said...

This book sat on my TBR list for quite a while. I only ended up reading it because my 16-year-old checked it out; I figured I might as well read it and get it off my list while it was in the house :-). She couldn't finish it because she said it kept making her cry, which is unusual for her. It didn't make me cry, but I did become invested in the characters enough that I was sad when I found out that the second book in the series followed a totally different family. I originally intended to skip book 2 and wait for book 3 which will bring back the original characters, but now I'm not sure.

Kailana said...

I really liked this book! I just saw on Twitter that you are almost finished book two. I haven't even got that far, yet!

Louise said...

Like Becky said, the portrayal of Christians in this book did not occur to me to be of Christians as such, but more a portrayal of a more cultish church. Definitely not your "average" Christian church. I didn't read it like that at all.

It was an amazing read. I loved it.

Anonymous said...

You're so right -- this book absolutely broke my heart and has stayed with me weeks after finishing it! It really disturbed me, of course, but in a good way... in a way that made me take stock of how privileged I really am to, like you said, have three meals a day -- and to really have to worry over so little. It totally put my "problems" in perspective for me -- and your review just reminded me of that again! :) A great book!

Anonymous said...

this book was amazing i thought that it was happining to me when i read this book and i herd that NASA was going to make a comet hit the moon or something like that wouldnt that be scary!

caite said...

ok, a really late comment...but I just read this book and was interested to see your opinion.
It is a good book, very compelling, very depressing. I very much liked the diary format and, as you said, that the reader is as much in the dark as to what is going on at the chaaracters are.
But I had to annoying issues..ok, maybe a few more. No electric? how did their water pump work?
Ok, I get that the author hates President Bush. I got it the first time she brought it up..and the second and the third.

And again, as you said, the portrayal of Christians. Granted, any group, even the church, can have bad, misguided..plain evil or nuts... folks. But it annoyed me that this was the only discussion of any sort of religious issues.

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.