I used to be a voracious reader, devouring up to 2-3 books per week. The business has consumed most of that free time, but I am again trying to make it a point to read a little each evening to wind down. Because most of the fiction and non-fiction I read is either Survival-related or Post-Apocalyptic, I have decided to review each book as I am done with it in case anyone stopping by the blog is looking for something to read!
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a quick read. While it has its flaws, it is engrossing, coherent, and does a good job of making the reader imagine the cataclysmic scenario unfolding in the book. For those who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, it’s premise reminded me of the Herculoids by Hanna Barbara, an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon. In Pfeffer’s version, the moon is struck by an asteroid that drives it out of its orbit and closer to the earth, in turn causing catastrophe’s of every sort: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and a nuclear winter. The more disasters the better!
The book is written in the first person of a high-school aged teenage girl, Miranda, and her daily life in a small town in Pennsylvania, as she records it in journal fashion. First-person fiction can be challenging if the main character isn’t very likable, but Miranda fits the bill of many good protagonists: humble, sweet, vulnerable, a fighter in the right circumstances with just the right touch of neurotic. However, I had a hard time relating to many of the other characters because we only see them second-hand through Miranda.
The plot elements were introduced timely, with only a little of the book being devoted to Miranda’s life prior to the main event, and it is typical teenage fare you find in the genre, whether that is Beverly Hills, 90210 or Twilight. After the impact of the asteroid on the moon, the book describes how Miranda and her family survive the ensuing disasters. While the initial scenes illustrate fairly well the panic an event can generate and the lengths that people will go to to survive, the book gives short shrift to these same emotions later on.
Some of the best pieces of the book show how necessity dictates action; for example, the rationing of food and water, ensuring that one member of a group is strong and ready, even at the expense of the health of others, and how minor injuries in normal times can be life-threatening in a disaster scenario. This is where the book shines, with realistic depictions of the emotional and physical responses hunger and privation cause, and how a family copes with it every day.
Overall, the book is decent for the angles it tackles…however, it fails to tackle quite a bit. It’s portrayal of everything Christian as either crazy or evil is incredibly heavy-handed. For example, the one character in the book that could be described as evil is the local preacher. Now, I’m not above having religious bad guys, as one of my favorites is Dumas’ Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeer’s. (Tim Curry did a great and dastardly job in my favorite version of the movie) However, coupled with several bashings of President Bush, it leads me to believe the author is doing a little political axe-grinding, and it just brings the novel down, especially as it is mostly apolitical.
The bigger oversight is the complete lack of violence. While 90% of the world is starving to death, there isn’t a single belligerent begger trying to panhandle a slice of bread, nor a biker gang going door to door seeking booze or a shank of lamb. While the main characters are constantly threatened by the environment, there is only one slight moment of danger at the hands of strangers, and even that is completely avoided by the main character. Later in the book, Miranda describes how hers is one of the only houses with smoke rising from the chimney, and yet even that doesn’t draw the notice of any ne’er-do-wells.
While I would love to believe our society is as civilized as portrayed, with folks running out of food just peacefully dying off without bothering anyone, it isn’t realistic in the slightest. Katrina demonstrated vividly how people really react when law and order breaks down. It is more likely the tiny Pennsylvania town in the novel would have become a war zone as starving people and those with supplies were in constant struggle.
Even with those two big flaws, I will probably pick up the 2nd novel in the series. I see from its reviews that the protagonist is Catholic, so it will be interesting to see whether the negative portrayal of Christians in Life as We Knew It continues.
If you are looking for a way to introduce your teen or spouse to preparedness topics, you could do much worse than having them read Life as We Knew It.