Life As We Knew It
As this book starts out it's some point in a teenage girl's journal. Since she writes in it all the time it stands to reason that journaling is a pastime she enjoys a lot. Also that her family is used to it. At the beginning there is back story so you know a little about Miranda's personality. Take it from me she is an ordinary teenage girl. She spends time complaining that her teachers give her too much homework, boys don't pay enough attention to her and she argues with her mom. So at the beginning there are a few of these type entries.
Then the good stuff begins to happen. She mentions that a meteor is on course to hit the moon. She doesn't think much of it. She in fact finds it irritating. Now all her teachers want her to write a report on the moon, so even more homework (cue more teenagey bitching).
Everyone is out in the street having moon parties. I'm not sure this would happen. Would everyone turn out to watch the moon being hit? Would people even care? I don't know. I for one think people would watch it on the tv box but I'm not sure. Anyhow it made a fairly memorable scene with all the impromptu barbecues and the party-like atmosphere.
When the meteor hits the moon everything goes sideways. The meteor must have been more dense, bigger or might even have been going faster than the big-brains thought. For whatever reason the moon is pushed closer to the earth. When people notice panic ensues. They panic harder when they get news reports of tidal waves. And then worse still when volcanoes begin erupting.
This book is the first in a trilogy that later became known as 'The Last Survivors'. Susan Beth Pfeffer is a great author and all the people in her book acted pretty much the way you expect people to do. I think this must have been her first foray into apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic writing. I say this because there some moments that run contrary to most apocalyptic cliches.
The one that really jumped out at me was close to front. Miranda's mom picks her up at school and they drive to the grocery store to stock up on food. Since the power is out, the store is asking only $100 per cart. Everyone in her family is able to make many trips and fill the car with food. Two problems with this. Problem the first: no way would a store give a cart of food for $100. They'd be charging that much for a single bag. Problem the second: everyone acted all polite to each other. No one dies getting their food (or kills I guess). They even helped one another with food choices. Along that same line no one ripped them off. Their food was all still in the car.
This book falls squarely into the cosy catastrophe genera. No one in the immediate family dies. Even the older brother who was at Cornell makes it home. Later on the flu (Pfeffer describes it as a 1918 Spanish Flu type one) makes a pass through the town and although many people in town die, Miranda's mother and both brothers fall ill but get better. They all are hungry but that's it. Pfeffer isn't afraid to kill of secondary characters (Dr. Peter Elliott, a vital lifeline for the family, snuffs out) but she leaves the core of main ones intact.
I enjoyed Life As We Knew It a lot. The scene that stuck out for me the first time I read it was Miranda at the pond. She finally gets some alone time and skates. This time I found another scene a little more memorable. It is when Miranda has given up. She takes a death march into town knowing she won't be back because she'd like to save her mom seeing her dead. The pond scene was still great. It was a little less memorable this time but only because I knew no one was coming out of the forest to do her some serious lasting harm. Actually the first time I read it I didn't notice all the skating references, this time I shoock my head and wondered how I could have missed it. Only after being a regular visitor to Susan's blog did I make the connection.
Alright Susan. I have a couple of questions for you just in case you read this. Question the first: Where I live we have stores called 'Winco' and 'Food 4 Less'. These stores are quite a lot like 'Costco' but with one big difference. The bulk food section. Everything from powdered milk to popcorn even dog, cat and bird food can be had there. So that would be where I'd go with my $100. I might get tired of eating beans and rice after a while but I'd almost certainly not starve. Question the second: Whatever happened to Brandon Erlich? He seemed pretty important to Miranda but after she skates with him at Miller's Pond he vanishes from the narrative. Or was the pond scene a part of some delirium? Question the Third: Why no marauders? They are a PA staple. The smoke from the chimney and the light leaking from the windows should have been a beacon to any persons of nefarious repute. Last Question: When the neighbors began to die off why didn't Matt (who strikes me as having the most developed sense of survival) go out and get all the food and other supplies the dead could no longer use? Just seems counter intuitive that someone would starve to death in sight of food is all.
Final though on Life As We Knew It. I enjoyed the book quite a lot. The first time I read it I wondered why Miranda was given sort of a soft ride through the apocalypse. This time I realize that the events of the book were seen through the filter of a disaffected teenage girl. We didn't read about much of the bad stuff that happened because the book had a first person, non-omniscient narrator. Miranda not only didn't want to know what was happening in the larger world, she actively avoided it. I think that a peek into her mom's journal would be quite something.
the dead and the goneI wrote earlier in this blog about the dead and the gone. I wrote then that I enjoyed it because it is more dark and gritty and real than it's sister book. The story runs at the same time as the events of Life As We Knew It but it looks like one of two things happened. Either Sue read a lot of PA and got ideas of how to make a harsher and more bleak world or she got a bunch of irate e-mails from other readers who asked things like 'why didn't Miranda or her brother raid the houses of people who died?' or 'why didn't they scavenge more?' perhaps even 'why did none of the main characters die?'. None of those irate e-mailers were me but I did hear them.
The second book started off well. Alex is the focus of this one. He is seventeen (I think) and is a Junior in the private (and I guess pretty exclusive) St. Vincent school. He is also a day-to-day worker at Joey's Pizza. As the story begins he is working and not paying attention to much except for school and work (and the occasional tip). That's sort of unfortunate for him because he isn't aware of the meteor that hits the moon in the middle of his shift. But that's not what irritates him. The tv box looses reception. Right in the middle of a ball game.
His grandmother has recently snuffed and his dad (and a bunch of other relatives) are in Porto Rico to attend the funeral. His mom has just gotten a job as a surgery tech. and is called to work at the hospital. So when he gets home the only people home are his two sisters.
He goes to bed thinking in the morning everything will be fine. He uncle who owns a bodega wakes him up early. Alex and his sister go to help their uncle get all the food out of the store. The uncle being a kindly sort lets them keep some. Alex and his sister Julie not being aware of the dire nature of the whole thing get sorta random food.
Soon after this events take a darker turn. Alex decides his mom is dead, that she drowned in the subway on the way to the hospital and that his dad died died in the tsunamis that wiped out Porto Rico. So they're orphans. All in the first couple chapters.
After that it settles down into real survival. This is the part I talked about before. Susan has definitely gotten some fan mail. Alex didn't have a mother who raided a supermarket. All he had was a little sister who raided a bodega for a bunch of goodies. Not her fault really. She's just a kid after all. The important thing is it drives her brother into survival overdrive. Not all at once though. He starts small. When it looks like the food is going to run out he first breaks into his dad's office. Uses keys he found there to enter other apartments. It's not long before he runs dangerously low on food again. He 'lucks out' when he's befriended by Kevin, the guy at school who can get you anything you want. He introduces Alex to 'bodyshopping'. When they see a person who has snuffed on the street they strip them down and take all stuff to the local black market guy and trade it for food.
Before when I wrote about this book I said the part that stuck out the most for me was when Alex was going to the stadium to look for his mother's corpse. I guess I wrote that because I forgot about the elevator. I must have blocked that out because I was still caught by surprise. I won't spoil it for here (if you even read this far in a very long rambling review). Just trust me when I say it. That part will stick with you.
Last word on 'the dead and the gone'. I'm glad I own this book so that I could enjoy rereading it. It was darker much more 'real' for me than Life As We Knew It. I highly recommend it. Also don't be fooled by the YA classification. It's hardcore PA. Trust me.
This World We Live In
First things first. If you haven't read this book don't read the inside flap. I haven't read a synopsis that was more spoilerific in forever. So whatever you do don't read the flap alright?
This book was quite a bit like 'Life As We Knew It'. It was voiced by Miranda in the form of a continuation of her diary. It also had the same tone as the first. It was exactly what I had anticipated. And also much like 'the dead and the gone' it was a dark and pretty frightening book. At the end of 'Life As We Knew It' the people in charge give each member of the family a bag of food. So the family of four gets four bags of food. That helps them get by. That continues in this book. So it's a near seamless continuation of part one.
As the story continues Alex joins the group when he shows up with Miranda's dad. Not a big problem though because they are able to get food from the town too. Also true to form Susan has either listened to some critics or has read other apocalyptic books, Miranda begins 'house hunting'. This is a lot like body shopping but with dead and empty houses and not corpses. She strips them of all useful items. Also her brothers discover that food can be had in the forests and rivers. Those where two of the major gripes about the first book. There were no attacks by raiders/scavengers on the house or on any surrounding houses.
All in all this was a great book and well worth the wait. It ended well with some happiness and parts that must be pretty awful to have to live through.