Monday, June 27, 2016

Audio Book: Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew It. Susan Beth Pfeffer. 2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages. [9 hours, read by Emily Bauer] [Source: Review copy]

Lisa is pregnant.

In an effort to be more well-rounded, I decided to listen to an audio book or two this summer. And since I prefer to listen to only books I've already read and loved, I decided to go with Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (This was my second time to listen to the story.)

Premise/plot: Miranda gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at a cataclysmic event that changes life on earth forever when a meteor crashes into the moon changing its orbit and proximity to earth. The book is Miranda's diary, and through her entries we meet her mom (Laura), older brother (Matt), younger brother (Jon), father, stepmother (Lisa), her mother's boyfriend (Peter), and a handful of her friends and classmates (Dan, Megan, Samantha). It reveals one family's struggle to just survive.

This won't be a proper review really. More a rambling list of observations.

From the very first time I read this one, I've really, really, really, really WANTED it turned into a video game.

Miranda and her family don't mention music much at all. But I personally would GO INSANE if I couldn't listen to music. If there was a video game, I'd want the family I create to have at least one musician in it (piano, acoustic guitar, violin, etc.) so that music could be made even without electricity.

Even after having read it so many times (probably six or seven???) I am still bothered by the inaccuracy about the water supply. Miranda makes such a deal of being on well water and their well running dry halfway through the novel. Remember that they've been without electricity for most of the book. (Except for when it comes on in fits and bursts allowing Miranda to vacuum and her mother to do laundry.) Wells don't pump water without electricity. The family would have had to find an alternate source of water practically from the very beginning of the novel. And being without water that much sooner would have complicated all aspects of their lives. (Their main source of water after the well goes dry is to melt snow and ice and boil it for purity.)  

The diary gives Miranda an opportunity to vent. Let's be honest, in her situation, we'd all need a safe place to VENT. Miranda records her many heated arguments with her Mom. She doesn't come out looking like a saint. But I'm not sure she's meant to. As an adult reader probably a lot closer to her mom's age than Miranda's 16, it is easy to form judgments about Miranda.

Miranda is VERY opinionated about Christianity. The book is not faith-friendly. And really in the book's three-hundred-something pages, the only villains (except for some street thugs stealing plywood) are Megan's minister, and the President of the United States (who can't magically make things better for every human on the planet). Miranda and her mom are definitely opinionated in terms of politics as well. (Let's just safely guess that the author was not a Bush fan.)

I do think that a cataclysmic event like this would make everyone--no matter their age--contemplate their own mortality and reflect at least a little on the big questions of life. What happens when I die? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? How can I know that I will go to heaven? What can I do to be saved? What is heaven like? What is hell like? So the fact that Miranda and a few people in her life are talking about these things seems believable enough to me. And since Miranda does not come from a religious family, it makes sense that she'd be muddled about what Christianity is all about. It makes sense that she'd reflect the modern society of not really believing that there is such a thing as sin. And it also makes sense that she'd reflect society's misunderstanding of what the gospel actually is. I think we very much live in a time and place where even those who've been exposed here and there to "the church" in some form or another--even if only coming through talking vegetables--believe that you earn your way into heaven through good works. That Christianity as translated through our culture is DO THIS, THIS, THIS, THIS. DON'T EVEN THINK OF DOING THAT.

The gospel isn't about a long, rigid list of rules and laws to be kept. The gospel is saying here's the long list of rules [the Old Testament]. You haven't kept these rules and laws since the time they were given to you. You've never been able to manage keeping them. Ever. No matter how many times you try and fail and fail to try, you can't keep these rules. Stop struggling and striving and listen to the good news. For anyone who gives up the fight to be good enough on their own, to all who admit that they are unable and unwilling to keep the law, to all who are honest about their need for help...there's GREAT news. Someone came and perfectly kept the law on your behalf and in your place. Jesus. He DID it all for you. It is done. He lived the life you could never, ever, ever, hope to live. He died the death you deserved. Believe that He has done it all, that it is indeed finished, and eternal life is YOURS.

The gospel is not to be confused with the prosperity gospel. The gospel is not believe in Jesus and get that dream job you've always wanted! Believe in Jesus and be cured of cancer! Believe in Jesus and get that dream body! Believe in Jesus and you'll never need another alcoholic drink in your life. Believe in Jesus and your gambling addiction will be broken forever. Believe in Jesus and your marriage will be saved.

Speaking hypothetically, I think a cataclysmic event of this nature would perhaps bring out the best in true Christianity, perhaps driving a zealous revival and urgent evangelism, perhaps even street evangelism. But reveal all the flaws of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel believes in the power of your words, and that you speak your own reality. That if bad things happen, that it is your fault.

According to Amazon, twenty mentions of the word "God," twenty mentions of the word "hell," sixteen mentions of the word "church," and fifteen mentions of the word "heaven."

I think it is important to remember that her use of religion in this book is for DRAMA and CONFLICT and TENSION. And it was not to be offensive or potentially offensive to a portion of her readers. Megan's pastor, in my humble opinion, falls shy of preaching the true gospel and is much closer to a false teacher.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Kailana said...

hm. Maybe a reread of this series on audio would be fun. I am not sure I have read all the sequels.

Kelly-Belly said...

I really enjoyed reading this review, and I like the hopeful view you have that Christians would step up to the plate. We always have hope.

I used to live in a small town where there were street preachers on the square on Saturday afternoons. I find it encouraging when fellow believers communicate their beliefs....even in some unique ways. :)

Michelle Ann said...


This reminds me of The Hopkins Manuscript by R C Sherriff,an unusual Persephone book. That story is about how people react and what happens when they find out the moon is shortly going to crash into the earth.