Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer

Fifteen-year-old Miranda has a pretty normal life, until a meteor hits the moon.  It shoves the moon closer to the earth (eek!), which as you might expect does not do good things for the earth.  Tsunamis take out New York and Florida and California; volcanoes begin erupting all over the place, filling the air with ash for miles around.  And Miranda’s family copes.

I first heard about this book shortly after I read Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and I didn’t want to do another girl-copes-with-end-of-world-scenario book straight away, because of how grim How I Live Now was.  But I needed a book to read last night when I was picking my father up from the airport, so here we are.  I read most of it in bed last night – I stopped at a stopping point and switched off the light, and then realized if I didn’t get at least two-thirds of the way through, I wouldn’t be done by this morning in time to return it to the library before going to England, so I switched the light back on and kept reading.

As soon as I reached the scene at the beginning where Miranda and her family go on a shopping craze at the grocery store, I knew I should stop reading.  It was already upsetting, and nobody important had even died yet.  When we have hurricanes on the way, the grocery stores are like this – nothing left, crowds of cars, people filling up enormous jugs of gas for their cars.  I did not like to read about it in Life As We Knew It.

In 2007, I was interviewing a guy at a halfway house in town, and this is the story he told me.  When the hurricane hit (this was Katrina), the water began rising in their house, too high for them to stay there, and they didn’t have an attic.  They had two girls, a four-year-old and a one-year-old.  He kicked down the door to their house, because it was wood and it would float, and they piled a few things on the door, that they weren’t willing to leave behind, jewelry and photo albums.  He put the four-year-old on his shoulders, and the one-year-old on the door, and he and his wife and kids went walking down the highway to get out of New Orleans, floating the door along, with their two girls.  “My little girl’s six now, and she still won’t take a bath,” he said.  “She too scared of water.  My sister been giving her sponge baths.  She live with my sister now.”

And I said, “Not with your wife?”

And he said, “My wife died last year.”

And that is my worst Katrina story.  Not because it’s the worst story out there (not even close), but I just wasn’t expecting him to say that his wife died.  They went through all that and she died anyway.  I felt exactly like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I couldn’t say anything to him for almost a whole minute, and I cried on the way home.

Life As We Knew It is good, but it was way upsetting, and it was the kind of upsetting that I couldn’t stop reading it.  This happened to me once before, with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.  I read it on a car trip, ages ago, and I hated it and I couldn’t stop reading it, and finally I abandoned it on a park bench at the rest stop on the Louisiana border.  If I could have abandoned Life As We Knew It on a park bench at a rest stop, I’d have done that; but it’s a library book so I finished it.  God, it was so unrelentingly bleak and frightening

Well, this is officially the most melodramatic book review I have ever written.  Here are some other, less dramatic reviews, and I am glad that I am not the only person this book scared the crap out of (yeah, I ended that sentence with two prepositions):

Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot
an adventure in reading
Tara at Books and Cooks
Bart’s Bookshelf
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
1 More Chapter
Book Addiction
Books on the Brain
Presenting Lenore
bookshelves of doom
Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?
Book Nut
thebookbind
Retro Review
Book Dweeb
Stephanie’s Confessions of a Bookaholic
The Reading Zone
Becky’s Book Reviews
Karin’s Book Nook
The Written World
Mixtures Books
Bonnie’s Books
The Ya Ya Yas
Frenetic Reader
Bookfoolery and Babble
The Book Muncher
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Tiny Little Reading Room
Reading Rants
The Story Siren
Life and Times of a New New Yorker
Suey’s Books
The Sleepy Reader
It’s All About Me
Laurel’s YA Book Reviews
Unmainstream Mom Reads
Sadie Jean
Experiments in Reading
Liv’s Book Reviews
Charlotte’s Library
ReadingAdventures
Thoughts of Joy
Just One More Page

Phew.  Let me know if I missed yours!

12 thoughts on “Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer

  1. Wow :( I can’t even imagine what going through that must have been like. Poor guy, and poor little girls.

    I liked Susan Beth Pfeffer’s writing enough to want to read her again, but I’m not sure if I can handle the companion novel, so I’ve been putting it off. Just thinking about this book terrifies me.

  2. I loved this book, and Pfeffer is a lovely woman (sent a personalised copy to my reviewer boyfriend, and then sent another when he ruined it *rolleyes*). It made me pretty sad, but I was glad to see, what I think is, a pretty accurate representation of a disaster on that scale. I was even gladder at the ending (don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read it!).

    I really want the second book but it’s not out in softback in the UK yet … I think. *goes to check*

  3. I thought the book was actually hopeful in the end, but I can see how it would have been upsetting. That man’s story was definitely heart wrenching.

  4. Nymeth – My thoughts exactly! I thought the book was really well-written, but I don’t think I could manage the companion novel, or the third one. I found out some stuff about what happens in the companion novel, and it sounds way more depressing than this one (yes, it’s possible).

    Ellira – Oh, that is really nice of Ms. Pfeffer! And I agree, it was a good representation of this kind of disaster – too good. Made me all sad.

    trish – Oh, definitely hopeful at the end, and not in a deus ex machina way at all (I thought). It’s just that rebuilding seems impossible, to me, after everything they’ve been through. The whole normalcy thing, that couldn’t come back. I was still really sad about it.

    Jenny – I really am relieved that I wasn’t the only one who found it terrifying, and it really is. Just be prepared for how totally bleak it is. :)

  5. Pingback: Retro Review: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer « YA Fabulous

  6. I think I am the only one to find this book creepier at the end than throughout the book. I wish I could have seen all the hope everyone else did!

  7. Renay – I can see how you wouldn’t find the end all that hopeful. I’d have liked to see a few more things resolved before the book closed, but at least things were looking up a bit.

  8. I liked the fact that it was hopeful at the end, but I know what you mean. It was definitely “unrelentingly bleak”. I just recently read the second book, The Dead and the Gone, though, and I thought it was a little too understated. I kept thinking the kids would, at some point, be in terrible danger and there was really only one scene that fit what I expected.

    So, are you in New Orleans? I’m in Mississippi and I can relate to what you said about the grocery stores running out of everything when a hurricane’s on the way. Last time we had one come through, I took a photo of the flashlight aisle at Walmart. Apart from a few tiny mini-flashlights, it was totally empty, of course. It was horrible after Katrina because our area got power sooner than most and that meant people were coming from three directions to strip our grocery store shelves for months. It’s good to be prepared before hurricane season even begins, but like that man you interviewed there are always going to be some people who can’t possibly prepare. They’re way too unpredictable. Such a sad story. I can see what that left you speechless.

  9. Your review has really caught my interest, but still left me ambivalent about whether or not to read it! I’m not sure I’m ready to take on that much emotional content right now!

  10. Nancy – Really? I’m surprised you say that about the sequel. I’ve read that it’s even darker than this one, which is why I wasn’t planning on reading it.

    I’m not in New Orleans, but I’m in South Louisiana. We weren’t so hard hit by the hurricane ourselves, but I’ve had a lot of contact with people who were. I think the reason a lot of people (including me) were caught off-guard is that we have predictions of murderous hurricanes fairly often. Off the top of my head, I can easily remember two times that we had several days off school for an anticipated hurricane and it didn’t even rain. That was probably what frightened me the most about this book, how Miranda thought nothing was really going to happen, and something really did. That hit close to home for me.

    jenclair – Yeah, definitely wait until you can handle something heavy. I did not at all realize when I started how heavy it was going to be, and I wish I had.

  11. Pingback: Review: The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker; plus, a new term I coined and feel good about | Jenny's Books

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