Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Life As We Knew It (YA)

Life As We Knew It. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages.

Lisa is pregnant. 

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is one of my favorite books. It's one of the few young adult books that I reread regularly. I believe--counting the audio book--that this was my fifth time to read this bleak book. (The only other book I reread with that much regularity is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.)

It stars Miranda and her family (a mom and two brothers--Matt, the older, Jonny, the younger). Miranda's world is turned upside down one May--and it isn't just her world--when an asteroid crashes into the moon bringing it closer to Earth; nature turns violent, extreme, deadly. No one--at that point--knows how bleak it will be, how many lives will be lost. Not just from tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes, but from disease and malnutrition too.

They are dealing with the loss of modern conveniences-- extremely limited amounts of natural gas and oil, and no electricity. (It's rare to have electricity.)

So how does one survive? Where do you find food? How can you ever have enough when you don't know how long this crisis will last? How long it will be before food supplies reach your town? What if no relief ever comes? How do you find water? How do you cook your food if you have a gas-stove or electric stove? How do you heat your homes without gas, oil, or electricity? How do you keep things sanitary and hygienic? How do you stay healthy? How do you stay smart?     

Miranda is one of the fortunate ones. She has a quick thinking mom who at the first opportunity rushes to the grocery store and buys close to a dozen carts of food and other necessities before the shelves are emptied completely. And they do live in a wooded area and happen to have a wood-burning stove. And miraculously enough they have magic well water that works without an electric pump. (That one still boggles.) But this struggle to survive is very personal, very compelling.

I enjoy Miranda and her family. I enjoy reading Miranda's journal. Is Miranda perfect? No! Is her family perfect? No! They argue. They fight. They get on each other's nerves. They love each other very, very much. And they are all dealing with harsh conditions, bleak situations. There is fear and tension and anxiety. But there's also love and hope.

My favorite quotes:

“Sometimes when Mom is getting ready to write a book she says she doesn’t know where to start, that the ending is so clear to her that the beginning doesn’t seem important anymore. I feel that way now only I don’t know what the ending is, not even what the ending is tonight” (16).

“For a moment I thought about all the people throughout history who saw Halley’s Comet and didn’t know what it was, just that it was there and frightening and awe inspiring. For the briefest flick of a second, I could have been a 16 year old in the Middle Ages looking up at the sky, marveling at its mysteries, or an Aztec or an Apache. For that tiny instant, I was every 16 year old in history, not knowing what the skies foretold about my future.” (18)

“And then it hit. Even though we knew it was going to, we were still shocked when the asteroid actually made contact with the moon. With our moon. At that second, I think we all realized that it was Our Moon and if it was attacked, then we were attacked.” (18-19)
“What about desserts?” I asked. “If the world comes to an end, I’m going to want cookies.” “We’re all going to want cookies if the world comes to an end,” Mrs. Nesbitt agreed. “And chips and pretzels. If the world is coming to an end, why should I care about my blood pressure?” “Okay, we’ll die fat,” Mom said. “Grab what you can grab and ram it into your wagons. But remember if we actually need this stuff, we’re going to be a lot more grateful for a can of soup than for a box of stale cookies.” “Speak for yourself,” Mrs. Nesbitt said. (34)
 “I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s would still be open.” (46)
“Lately I’ve been trying not to know what’s going on. At least that’s the excuse I’ve been giving myself for not caring about all the stuff that’s happening outside of my little section of Pennsylvania. Who cares about earthquakes in India or Peru or even Alaska?
Okay that’s not fair. I know who cares. Matt cares and Mom cares and if there were any baseball involved, Jonny would care, too. Knowing Dad, he cares. Mrs. Nesbitt, too.
I’m the one not caring. I’m the one pretending the earth isn’t shattering all around me because I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to know there was an earthquake in Missouri. I don’t want to know the Midwest can die, also, that what’s going on isn’t just tides and tsunamis. I don’t want to have anything more to be afraid of.
I didn’t start this diary for it to be a record of death.” (70-71)
“We have clean sheets to sleep on, a clean house, clean clothes, clean dishes. We spent the evening laughing. It wasn’t 90 degrees in the house when we went to bed. We weren’t hungry. We’re not worried about Dad. I know what it feels like to be kissed by a boy. If I could, I would relive this day over and over. I can’t imagine a more perfect one.” (95-96)
“I can’t decide which is worse, no electricity or unreliable electricity. I wonder if I’ll ever have to decide which is worse, life as we’re living or no life at all.” (119)
“Here’s the funny thing about the world coming to an end. Once it gets going, it doesn’t seem to stop.” (120)
“I told Mom I was doing history (she never would have believed me if I said math) and stayed in bed all morning.” (191)

“I know I’m going to have to be strong for the next couple of weeks. No more whining. No more picking fights. I’ll have to do whatever Mom asks me and not protest and not complain. I know I can do it. But for that one moment I felt so weak, so helpless. I felt nothing but fear and despair and the most awful need to be anyplace else. I told myself it was hunger, but I knew that was a lie.
As long as Mom was all right, I could fool myself into thinking we’d all be all right.” (206)
“It’s funny how sorry I feel for Jon these days. I’m 2 1/2 years older than him and I feel like got those 2 1/2 years to go to school and swim and have friends and he got cheated out of them. And maybe he’ll live 2 1/2 years longer than me, or 20 years or 50, but he’ll still never have those 2 1/2 years of normal life.

Every day when I go to sleep I think what a jerk I was to have felt sorry for myself the day before. My Wednesdays are worse than my Tuesdays, my Tuesdays way worse than my Tuesday of a week before. Which means every tomorrow is going to be worse than every today. Why feel sorry for myself today when tomorrow’s bound to be worse?
It’s a hell of a philosophy, but it’s all I’ve got.” (275)

“But I hope when I get closer to death, however old I might be, that I can face it with courage and good sense the way Mrs. Nesbitt does.” (234)

“A while ago Jonny asked me why I was still keeping a journal, who I was writing it for. I’ve asked myself that a lot, especially in the really bad times.
Sometimes I’ve thought I was keeping it for people 200 years from now, so they can see what our lives were like.
Sometimes I’ve thought I’m keeping it for that day when people no longer exist but butterflies can read.
But today, when I am 17 and warm and well fed, I’m keeping this journal for myself so I can always remember life as we knew it, life as we know it, for a time when I am no longer in the sunroom.” (337)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Kailana 9:26 AM  

When I read this I left it laying around and the guy actually picked it up and read a bit. Then, when I was finished, he asked all about it. That very rarely happens! I still haven't read the sequels, though.

(PS: Thanks for the classic movie recommendations!)

Anonymous,  11:11 AM  

I don't know why but I like books where the characters have to overcome some disaster. What's the sequel?

Becky 11:16 AM  

Kathy, the sequels are the dead and the gone and this world we live in. I'll have reviews of these this week as well.

Blueicegal ♥ 5:11 PM  

I completely fell in love with this series. It just makes you appreciate life and those you love so much more. The second book is a lot more intense and scary. I'll be looking out for the following books reviews :)

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

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