Friday, July 24, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #12: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

An asteroid knocks the moon closer to the Earth and causes chaos: volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, extreme weather patterns and wild storms. Miranda's life as a teenager in Pennsylvania with her family becomes a struggle for survival. The supermarkets are empty and the authorities have disappeared.

Told through diary entries written by Miranda over the course of a year, Pfeffer paints a grim and uncaring world in which modern-day Americans are thrust back into the dark ages.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had some reservations at the beginning: as the book uses a diary format the world is shrunk to the size of the thoughts of one person. I wanted space to breathe, to see the destruction, the drama, instead of just the impressions of one self-centred teenager. Miranda doesn't seem to want to know what has happened to the outside world, even at the beginning of the book when the television and radio still work.

But as I read on, I found that there was plenty of drama and destruction to contend with. I expected the same hysterical looting and violence of The Death of Grass, say, but instead people's attitudes to each other became wary and distant as the population is thinned to ghost-town proportions. Miranda's voice is beautifully realised, now tight and angry, now despairing, now humorous. Pfeffer has captured the language of a teenager with intelligence and a richness of expression.

Familial relationships become stretched to breaking point. I've never imagined what it would be like to be trapped in a clutch of rooms with my family, faced with the grim reality of starvation, but thanks to Pfeffer I have a pretty darn good idea of how it might pan out.

Heart-breaking, saddening, fist-clenchingly gripping, this book deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it. As the back cover warned, I did shed a number of tears, and had one of those rare experiences in which I could not guess how things were going to end. It's so far the best YA book of the challenge. I thank the Book Smugglers for the recommendation.

Book design: Could use less copy on the front and back covers, but otherwise superb. Typesetting and page design complementary and a pleasure to read. Props for the moon-inspired imprint page.


  1. I love the cover.
    I'm looking forward to your review of Obernewtyn.

  2. I loved Obernewtyn as a teenager. Loving the re-read.

    I just booked two Carmody sessions at the MWF and am resisting the urge to SQUEEEEEE! 2511 and 2612. They're part of the schools program but anyone can go, yay! And at $6, bargain.

  3. Rhiannon, I am so glad you enjoyed this book - I know what you mean about being moved to tears by LAWKI; I certainly was too. The scene with the chocolate chips! Guh.

    I also *highly* recommend giving the companion novel, the dead and the gone a read. It has the drama and the action and terror that you mentioned were missing from this book, as the narrator switches to 3rd person and follows a boy and his two sisters living out the moon crush event in New York City. It's very different, indeed. Much more bleak, much more dark, but very good.

    I love this dystopian challenge! Crap, wish I knew about it earlier, I love so many of the books on this list. Though now I am off to look for a copy of The Death of Grass!

  4. I think you'll love The Death of Grass. It's probably my most recommended so far of the dystopian challenge, despite its flaws. It's just so freaking chilling! I'll look out for The Dead and the Gone, too.

  5. The sequel to this is coming out here in a few months. If follows the same family from this book and I can't wait to read it!