Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

lifeWhen an asteroid knocks the moon out of orbit, the world goes crazy. The tides change. Volcanoes erupt that had never been active before. Electricity is no longer dependable. All commerce ceases. One family’s struggle to remain alive through this catastrophe is chronicled in 15-year-old Miranda’s journal.

I’m in two minds about this book, so I’ll start with the negative and move on to the good things afterwards. First let me tell you that I’m not sure I was in the right mood to read this. With all the stress involved in writing my own YA occult thriller, I would have done better with a comfy, quiet book. Reading it really stressed me out, so I was a bit turned off of it while I read. I’m sure that influenced the way I viewed it. It’s possible I would have loved it to pieces had I been in a different place of my life.

I think my biggest problem with the book was the diary format. I couldn’t buy it. It was like the Blair Witch Project – it’s not very realistic that she would have kept the camera rolling as she ran through the woods from a ghost, you know? Sure, the movie was creepy and all, and I’m not making fun of it, but of course the set up involves a serious suspension of disbelief and not everyone has it in them to suspend that much. The diary in this book felt the same way. Miranda would relate pages and pages of full dialog, both before and after the catastrophe. She put in a bunch of stuff that I can’t imagine anyone putting in a journal. Sometimes she was writing as major, horrifying events were happening, while she was dealing with them. Absolutely impossible. So I had a hard time suspending my disbelief. I’ve actually heard that the second book in the series is a third person account of these events and I honestly think I will like that far more. I think it will feel more honest to me, and I kind of wish this had been written that way instead of by diary entries. I think in the end it would have been more powerful for me.

Also, I had a hard time believing some of the things that happen. Or didn’t happen, to be more precise. I won’t debate about the moon and how much influence it has on our weather patterns. I don’t know enough science for that. But I will debate the reactions of people in this book. For example, not once in 10 months is the family ever in any danger of people raiding their house for food. When people die, others in the town let the family of that person have first grabs of the house. I don’t believe it. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I believe families would do everything they could to survive, and that includes stealing other peoples’ food, killing for food, etc. Maybe it’s just because I recently read In a Perfect World, which for all its faults generally had a fairly realistic portrait of the way people act when society falls apart. I would have believed this book more had I seen more of the violence that would have naturally resulted from this sort of situation.

So those are my main issues. There were good things, too. Especially in the last third of the book, I really started to care about the characters. I didn’t want them to die. I felt terrible when anyone died, minor or major character. I could feel the spiral of disintegration. I stopped caring so much about the things above that I said irritated me, forgot that I was reading a diary, and really felt the horror of what was happening to this family. I even dreamed about the end, about finding solutions to counteract the moon’s nearness (my dreams involved very strong magnets buried deep in places around the world, backwards so that they pushed backwards against the moon’s force, which somehow created balance…).

It was family that I really felt strongly. One of the worst things in this book involved Miranda’s father. This might be a minor spoiler, but it’s really not anything huge. Miranda’s parents are divorced. Her dad is remarried and his wife is pregnant when the moon gets too close to Earth. She’s frantic about her parents and wants to drive to Colorado to find them. Miranda’s family lives in Pennsylvania. Dad and his wife come to visit them for a week on their way to Colorado, and Dad is devastated when he leaves. He cries and his wife drives the car. They all know they’ll probably never see each other again. Miranda’s brother, Matt, is extremely angry at Dad because he left them there.

That really made me think. I mean, if his wife wasn’t pregnant, I think the choice would have been easy – he may love his wife, but he should stay to take care of his children and make sure they survive. But she’s pregnant with his child, too, so where should he go? He can’t expect his wife to abandon her family, either. It’s a tough choice, and it really made me think a lot about divorce and remarriages and priorities. I don’t know that I have an answer.

I loved the end. Technically, it was a bit deus ex machina, but in my present mood, something life-affirming was exactly what I needed. I’m not saying everything ends up peachy roses and the moon goes back where it belongs or anything, but I’m glad it didn’t end with, say, Miranda’s diary simply stopping because you know she’s died. I don’t think I could have taken that right now.

I will look forward to reading the sequel, which I think I will like more than this one. But I won’t read it right away. I think I need to take a break and read something quiet.

About Amanda

Writing. Family. Books. Crochet. Fitness. Fashion. Fun. Not necessarily in that order. Note: agender (she/her).
This entry was posted in 2009, Prose, Young Adult and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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