Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Dead and the Gone (YA)

the dead & the gone. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2008. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 321 pages.

At the moment when life as he had known it changed forever, Alex Morales was behind the counter at Joey's Pizza, slicing a spinach pesto pie into eight roughly equal pieces.

The dead & the gone is the companion novel to Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. While Miranda's story--set in Pennsylvania--chronicles her life from May through March of that decisive year, Alex's story--set in New York City--chronicles his life from May through December. Both are family-oriented. Miranda's life being closely tied to her mom and two brothers; Alex's life being closely tied to his two younger sisters, Brianna and Julie. But Alex's story is stronger in many ways. For Alex is the head of the family--for better or worse. Alex is the one making life-and-death decisions. His mom vanished on May 18th--the day the asteroid struck the moon. His dad may or may not have survived the first terrible week. Having been in Puerto Rico for a funeral, he's unable to make contact with his family. And, well, the coasts were hit hard--again and again. So even surviving the first tsunamis might not mean much in the long term. His older brother, Carlos, is in the Marines. He was far from home when it happened, and while he's able to send word--by phone or mail--a few times throughout the book. He's not the one in charge. He's not the one responsible for making the tough decisions on how to best survive. So while Miranda has to grow-up, it is a gradual growing into adulthood. She still has her relaxed moments. There is never one moment for Alex to relax. He carries a heavy weight day and night.

I enjoyed rereading Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone back to back. There are things I love about both books. Things I appreciate about both books. One thing that makes the dead & the gone a very different story is the focus on faith and community. The dead & the gone is faith-oriented. Alex and his family are Catholics. They all attend Catholic school. They all regularly attend mass. They take their faith, their spirituality, their religion very seriously. The words mean something. The faith means something to them. Something real. Something personal. While each of the siblings has their own reaction--response--to the crisis, none loses their faith, none lose hope completely. I loved seeing this Catholic community in action. I loved seeing the Catholic church reaching out in love and compassion--with great hope and faith--to their community, to their parishioners. There were so many great scenes of this faith-in-action. Where people were responding with their hearts in faith as opposed to acting out of fear and anxiety. It's courageous and wonderful.

The dead & the gone has a broader outlook as well. While the electricity isn't reliable on a day-by-day basis in the dead & the gone, it is certainly more stable than in Life As We Knew It. Alex is connected to the larger world. He hears--for better or worse--more about the world at large. He is more aware of what is going on in other states. While Miranda and her family may go weeks or months without contact to other survivors, Alex is out of the house most days--at least before the flu epidemic comes. He's not as isolated as Miranda. Does not being so isolated help him cope? Maybe. But every day, every week is a struggle. Alex does things he'd NEVER thought he'd be doing.

Is Alex more of a hero than Miranda? I'm not sure that is exactly fair. Miranda has her courageous moments too. (I'm thinking of the woodstove mishap.) But. Alex's story has power no doubt about it.
I would definitely recommend both books.

"Give the scientists some time and they'll figure out what to do."
"This is too big for the scientists," Lorraine said. "Only God can save us now."
"Then He will," Alex said. (13)

God save their souls, Alex prayed. God save ours. It was the only prayer he could think of, no matter how inadequate it might be. It offered him no comfort, but he repeated it unceasingly. As long as he prayed he didn't have to think. He didn't have to remember. He didn't have to decide. He didn't have to acknowledge he was entering a world where no one had laid out the rules for him to follow, a world where there might not be any rules left for any of them to follow. (65)

"She says you've been having bad dreams."
"Aren't you?" Julie asked. "Isn't everyone?"
Alex burst out laughing. "Only sane people," he said. "Okay, maybe not Bri. But everyone else is."
"Are things going to get better?" Julie asked. "Is that why you listen to the news all the time, because someday things are going to get better?"
Alex shook his head. "That's not why I listen," he replied. "That's why I pray but not why I listen."
"Do you think God listens?" she asked.
"Bri thinks so," Alex said. "Father Franco thinks so." (81)

It was hard being alone in the apartment staring at an unringing phone, haunted by the food in the kitchen, which he wouldn't allow himself to touch, haunted even more by the image of his mother drowning in the subway that very first night. He tried reading. He tried praying. He tried push-ups. He tried counting the cans of soup. He listened to the radio, using up the twenty-dollar batteries. The world was coming to an end. Well, that was nothing new. (123)

"And what's so special about you that you deserve compassion?" Father Mulrooney said. "You have shelter. You have food. You have family and friends. I'm supposed to feel pity for you because of a cut cheek?"
"You don't understand at all," Alex said. "I have shelter for as long as no one thinks about it. Once they do, once they realize my father is gone, they can throw us out. I have food only if I get lunch here. We're down to almost nothing at home, and I have to make sure my kid sister eats. She is my family right now, because my parents are both gone and my older brother is in the Marines somewhere and I sent my other sister to live at a convent with strangers. My cheek was cut because I got caught in a food riot, with my kid sister, and we ended up with no food anyway. I'm not asking you to pity me. I pity me enough for the two of us. But when one of your students asks you for food, you shouldn't say no and feel righteous about it. That's not what Christ would have done, and you know it." (133)

"What do you have planned for tomorrow?"
Alex shrugged. "The usual," he said. "Checking on the elderly, studying theology, fighting for survival. Same old, same old." (151)

"I know it's wrong to feel that way about God and I know it's wrong to not feel anything. I hate it. I don't hate God. I hate not loving Him." (184)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Kailana said...

I really need to read this. I read the first book a couple years ago now and never read on...

Sorilla said...

These are the books people need to read, especially after Japan's disaster......everyone finds a faith after facing such horrible events.
All the best,