Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Plot Summary: Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

The premise of this novel is so powerful that, while I was reading, I had many an urge to fill every nook and cranny of my kitchen with non-perishable foods. Probably because I’m a mom, and just the idea of my family being in that situation makes me want to prepare for it. :)

As for the book itself, I enjoyed it. Most of the characters were interesting, some of the messages were a bit one-sided, but it’s still a very powerful story.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

After finishing this book, I read several reviews that slammed the author on her lack of research in science, incomplete portrayal of religion, and flat characters. So, here’s my take on things.

First, let’s look at a few characters that, for me, really stood out. The rest of the characters weren’t nearly as interesting. I think they could have been if we’d seen more of them. But, as it is...

Miranda: a typical teen pushed into an atypical situation – natural events on the scale of the apocalypse. Some teens, when put into extreme situations, will grow up quickly and do what they need to do to help out. Especially in matters of survival, which is what this story is all about. Miranda doesn’t. Some may see that as selfishness, others may see it as denial and wanting to hold on to some semblance of normal. I think the second is what the author was going for, but it didn’t always come across that way. Still, I liked her and enjoyed seeing her grow as a person into doing everything she could to help her family survive.

Mom: I read a few reviews that really criticized the author for turning the mom into a snarling hoard-monster. I can completely understand why she kept food and supplies for only immediate family. Mom Instincts kicked in, and she *had* to provide for her family. That meant she would go without, which she did, and so would everyone else. She’s responsible for her family, no one else is. If her family starves, it’s her fault for not preparing better. That’s a huge burden to bear, and not many would handle it well. Mom didn’t, but her heart was certainly in the right place. Because of this, I thought she was very realistic, if not completely likable.

Megan: Initially, she was annoying, but clearly Miranda’s friend. After one particular scene, however, I hated her. It was the scene in the lunchroom, after Miranda has asked Megan to eat instead of giving half of her food away to the other kids. Megan looks right at Miranda, then gives away *all* of her food. That, plus her continuous holier-than-thou attitude made me wonder why Miranda was even friends with her. I can understand friendship loyalty, but this went too far. Megan went too far.

This leads me to the religious aspect of the book. Many reviewers have said this book paints a one-sided view of Christians. And, I have to say that I agree. The only Christians portrayed are Megan, who I’ve already discussed, and her pastor, who is a selfish extremist. There are Christians in this world who are like this. And there are other Christians who are the opposite. In this kind of story, I’d guess there would be many Christians doing good things, as well as the ones like Megan and her pastor. There would probably be atheists and agnostics converting as well, because that can happen in seriously scary times like this. I think a rounder representation of Christianity would have made the story deeper and richer, because I’d think everyone would be considering his immortal soul...even if he hadn’t believed in it before.

The last thing left is the science. This actually gave me great pause. When the meteor first hits the moon, the effects are instantaneous. Now, I’m not a scientist, or an expert, but I do know a little something about how things move in space. If the moon were hit so hard that it shifted orbit, I don’t think we’d see the effect immediately. There’s a lot of space in space, so, even if something is moving along at a good speed, it still takes a long time to get from point A to point B. Also, once something is moving, it doesn’t stop.

In this story, the meteor hitting the moon is described as pushing the moon sideways, and then it got sort of bigger. Essentially, it shifted into a closer orbit over the period of a few minutes. Realistically, we would see these changes take place over a few days, not a few minutes. If the moon was moving so fast that you could see it get closer to Earth in just a few minutes, that means it’s moving at a seriously fast pace. Which means the impact would have been so intense, large chunks of the moon would have come off. Plus, once it got that much momentum going, it’s not going to stop. It would crash into Earth, effectively ending Life As We Know It.

I do think the author should have made this more realistic. It would have made the premise that much more powerful. And, considering how powerful it already is, can you imagine how amazing the story would have been? Off the charts. Just goes to show how important research is.

Still, this is a story that’s tough to put down. I wanted to know how in the world they were going to keep on going with a disaster like this. I’m glad to say that the ending wasn’t fairy-tale-like, yet had a glimmer of hope that left me with a smile on my face. Good book.

14 comments:

Carrie Harris said...

Interesting book. I'd never heard of this one. Have you read The Compound? It's got a similar premise: after nuclear attack, a family goes into their survival bunker. I really enjoyed it if you haven't read it yet.

Marcia said...

I found this book really hard to put down, but I agree that the character development was uneven. I was on board with the mom's downward spiral pretty much. I didn't like it but I believed it. The Christians, on the other hand, were forgettable in their 1-D stereotypical weirdness/exploitation. To show others that might have balanced out Megan, her mom, and the pastor would have driven her story into territory SBP didn't plan to explore, I suspect. The religious aspect received very token, surface-level treatment, and that's a great weakness since beliefs will be greatly challenged, changed, embraced, abandoned, etc., by crisis. This book played out the crisis against an essentially religion-free background, and we do not have a religion-free world.

There's a companion novel, whose title I forget, that I read earlier this year. It was okay, but like many sequels (sequel in the sense that it's about the same event, but not the same characters) didn't have the impact of the first.

PJ Hoover said...

It sounds fantastic! I tried not to read too many of the spoilers so as to make it even better!

Tabitha said...

Carrie - I've heard of The Compound (written by a fellow BB, right?), but I haven't read it yet. My library doesn't carry it, though I'm badgering them to pick it up. :) But it's on my list of really-want-to-read. :)

Marcia - I had a tough time putting it down too. I suspect you're right about the Christian aspect of the story, and how the author didn't want to go there. And I totally agree that it's a huge weakness in the story for the reasons you state. I just love hearing your take on things. :)

I came across the companion novel, but didn't pick it up. I can't remember the title, either, but it's similar to this one. :)

PJ - it's a strong premise, and kept me glued to the pages. :) I'd love to hear your thoughts after you've read it!!

Gottawrite Girl said...

Thanks, Tabitha! The mom character sounds intruiging... the ones that are not wholly black or white are most interesting to me, always!

Tabitha said...

Aren't they ever! :) This is a book that will suck you in completely, and leave you with a fully-stocked pantry. :)

Kelly said...

Very thorough review!
I would have to agree with your character analysis of the mom...Moms fiercely protect their young at any cost!

Tabitha said...

Yep, sure do. :) It's kind of hard to understand unless you're a mom, isn't it? This book was criticized by many because the mom turned into a greedy hoarder. But, that was the only thing she could think of to help her kids. I wonder what any other mom would do in her place...

WordWrangler said...

I've never heard of this book. Thanks for the review. I always enjoy reading your commentary. The spoilers are fine with me, by the way. If I do get to read it, I'll simply be excited about getting to the parts you've mentioned. If I don't get a chance to read it, at least I've got information concerning the book that I didn't ahve before reading your blog.

Nicely done! :)

Tabitha said...

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoy the spoilers, because I enjoy writing them. I don't think it's possible to really discuss a book without getting into some spoilers. Especially books like this one. :)

Angie Frazier said...

I'm glad to read your post about this book. I bought it this summer when I put a call out for book suggestions and a few people said LIFE AS WE KNEW IT. And while the initial premise was intriguing and the survival aspect of the story kept me reading, I STILL haven't finished it. It stopped being compelling to me after a while. The survival aspect got old, and I found myself wishing there was another plot line that could hold my interest.
I'm glad for the author though that a lot of other people liked it!

Elena said...

HM. Someone mentioned the sequel--It's not the sequel fot the record. It's titled "The Dead and The Gone." It's basically the same book by the same author in a different perspective. That story takes place in New York and is told in the eyes of a boy--So you would expect it to be just a tad bit different. ;] I'm planning to read it and have just finished reading Life As We Knew It for a book report I am doing in school... (FUN!) I am trying to analyze Miranda's character and how she keeps her "sense of normality" throughout the book but it's really getting to me because now I have to go back through the book and find support for all of my ideas and thoughts... (Again--FUN!) I enjoyed your review. Thanks for all your help here!

Donna said...

I was so glad to see your critique included a paragraph on the science of the moon being hit and shifted as described in the book. I am a science teacher and use this in class to help students understand why it's so important to think critically about what they read and see. So many students read this book and just take the described events as factual and possible. When we really analyze it they realize how poorly researched this part of the story was but it's a good lesson in not believing everything you read.

Anna said...

If you read the two sequels, there are far more positive portrayals of Christians. In "The Dead and Gone," the entire cast is heavily religious, and in "This World We Live In," practically everyone gets converted except for Miranda and her mother. I must say, I found myself thinking that if I were a character in the story, I would go insane dealing with that level of religious fervor. Not only is it the end of the world as we knew it, everyone around me suddenly becomes uber-religious? I'm afraid I wouldn't have the patience to deal with that, LOL.