There’s nothing like a book about a catastrophic world event to make the prospect of having to write 60 report cards seem like not such big a deal after all. Guess that might have been what inspired me to read the dead and the gone last weekend. The only break I really took from report card purgatory was to read Susan Beth Pfeffer’s vision of what would happen to the world if an asteriod hit the moon and knocked it out of orbit, causing tsunamis, widespread volcanic eruptions that block the suns rays, earthquakes, flu and cholera. Good times all ’round. In fact, I was so into the whole thing that this week I picked up the companion title, Life As We Knew It, and found myself just as compelled to keep turning the pages.
Life as We Knew It is structured as the diary of Miranda, a high school sophomore. Miranda details her family’s struggle to survive after a meteor smashes into the moon, moving it out of orbit and causing all sorts of horrible changes in the earth’s climate and environment. We are right there as she recounts the loss of electricity, heat, running water, diminishing food supplies and the many terrifying issues in the world at large: volcanic eruptions, floods and epidemics. In the dead and the gone, Pfeffer sticks with the same basic scenario, but shifts her lens to take in a new perspective, this time the experience of a family in New York City trying to cope with the aftermath of the same disaster. Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales is left as the primary caregiver for his two younger sisters when both his mother and father disappear after the catastrophe. The day-to-day account of their lives is similar to LAWKI, except not in first-person narration.
I can see why these books have met with critical acclaim and plenty of reader enthusiasm. Pfeffer conveys how terrifying the events are for her characters in a way that is honest and unflinching. You are brought right into it, up close to the darkness and the fear, but never to the point that you get lost in it and can’t take it anymore. That’s a tricky balance to have achieved with such an intense premise. More than anything, Miranda and Alex are incredibly sympathetic characters, so believable in their complicated responses to the challenges they face. You watch them grow, and you ‘re right inside their heads. Another reason why these novels just grab you is that there is a continuously building claustrophobic sense as the characters are more and more cut off from the rest of the world and it becomes all about their thoughts and emotions wound so tight. “Unputdownable,” that’s for sure.
Susan Beth Pfeffer has a wonderfully detailed blog in which she offers a glimpse into her writing process, and lots of behind-the-scenes info about all of her books. These two titles are about hope and desperation, faith and resourcefulness, courage and forgiveness and ultimately, the power of family to lend meaning to life. There are many scenes I will not forget in these pages, images that will stay with me for a long time. I’ll be up for some more catastrophe when Susan Beth Pfeffer has finished the third book in the sequence, The World We Live In, which continues Miranda’s diary from the point it ended in the first book.
Inspired by these highly readable, thought-provoking/deeply freaky stories, I have created a poll. Help me to make the most sensible choice: