Susan Beth Pfeffer
Life As We Knew It
There’s a whole subgenre of survival novels out there, particularly lately. But it’s pretty old tradition, and the classics in the lot (Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson) have become young adult classics. But now, I’ve learned, there’s a trilogy of such novels written for young adults. Since I have a 14 year old granddaughter who can always use a present, I figured I’d check it out.
The premise of Life As We Knew It is that an asteroid knocks the moon into a different orbit. As TEOTWAWKIs go, this one is pretty dire: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes leading to an early and severe winter, air you can barely breathe. But this is not a “how-to manual” in the John Wesley, Rawles manner (though certainly lessons can be drawn). The tale is told through the diary entries of 16 year old Miranda. Her mom is a writer who does keep some food around, but is scarcely a prepper… though she does a decent job of last-minute stock-up. Her dad had run off with a younger woman (who is pregnant, and has asked Miranda to be godmother). She has older and younger brothers. In small town Pennsylvania, spikey-haired mutants aren’t the problem. Sure there are gangs, and the hospital is fortified, but mostly people are well-behaved while waiting for starvation or the flu to kill them. Even the gangs would rather steal than kill.
The main moral of LAWKI is that family and discipline will get you through, and helping others is secondary (if not tertiary) to that. There’s no real end to give away; the family survives, and things seem to be looking up. All the kids, especially Miranda, mature and rise to what’s required…which is a good thing, as I found the first pages hard going, not because there’s anything wrong with Miranda, but because she’s so very 16. A teenager might not mind through.
I have two minor gripes. One is that Mom has Bush Derangement Syndrome. Oh, the President’s name is never mentioned, but he has a ranch in Texas and is an idiot, and the book came out in 2006; you do the math. It’s rather odd, because a government bailout arrives in the nick of time. The other and more serious gripe is the role (or non-role) of faith in the community. The only believers are Miranda’s friend Megan (and her crowd) who has become a fundamentalist cultie in the wake of the cancer death of another mutual friend. Megan becomes a sort of Christian breatharian and starves. Miranda confronts Megan’s minister, who miraculously has not lost any weight. That’s IT for the influence of religion, and it’s not a pretty picture. You’d think that, faced with an event of such enormity, somebody somewhere would mention God…though Miranda does dream surreally of Heaven, and is to be a godmother…whatever that means to her.
Still, it mostly reads well, has a timely message, and I wouldn’t hesitate to gift it to Sara. I’d like to know how the family made out in the end, but evidently the 2nd book, The Dead and the Gone, is a parallel story involving a Puerto Rican boy in New York City. Rebuilding is intrinsically more interesting than collapse, and none of it really happens in LAWKI. But I’d still give it a 4 out of 5.
UPDATE: I went to Amazon to post a version of this, and found I’d missed a real howler: they have running water until their well runs dry, even without electricity. And it wasn’t raining, so forget gathering rainwater. They would have been dead by the end of chapter 3; end of story. And book 3 unites the 2 stories and carries them forward.