Feb 9, 2009

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Do people ever realize how precious life is? I know I never did before. There was always time. There was always a future.
The narrator of this story is sixteen year-old Miranda. She begins to keep a journal one spring, and at first her life is like the life of many other teenagers. She writes about her family, her friends, school, a boy she has a crush on, etc. She tells us that an asteroid is going to hit the moon on May 18th, but nobody is particularly concerned. The hit is supposed to be visible from Earth, so there’s an expectant, almost celebratory atmosphere in Miranda’s neighbourhood. But something goes wrong: the impact brings the moon closer to the earth, and tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic activity follow. Life will never be the same again.

Life as We Knew It is a terrifying book. I said last week that after reading a few chapters before bed I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. Well, apparently I don’t learn, because the following day I did it again. And then I had a nightmare. I dreamed I was part of Miranda’s family. It was winter and we were all in the sun room, and then someone started banging on the door, yelling that they knew we had food and they’d come to take it. We were all completely terrified, and I woke up with my heart pounding.

I hope I’m not making the book sound darker than it actually is, though. I mean, it is dark. First of all because a natural disaster of this kind could indeed happen, and for all our technology (or perhaps because of all our technology), we’re as vulnerable to it as ever. Secondly because stories where people go hungry tend to get to me a lot, and there was a lot of that here. But despite all the darkness, there are a lot of lighter, even humorous, moments. And Miranda writes about everyday concerns as well as life-or-death issues. She’s a little like Anne Frank, who was a young girl like so many others despite her extraordinary circumstances.

I was particularly interested in the family dynamics in this book. Miranda’s parents are divorced. She lives with her mother, her older brother Matt and her little brother Jonny. Take Miranda’s mother, for example. It was thanks to her clear-thinking and determination that the family was able to store food while they still could. But as the story advanced, I wondered at some of the decisions she made. But then again, I can’t even begin to imagine what having to make any decisions at all about certain things must be like. Having to ration your children’s food. Having to wonder who is more likely to survive and make calculations based on that.

I did like the relationships between the three siblings. I liked how despite the many causes for conflict, the family remains close. They’re not exactly a picture-perfect family, but you can tell that they care about one another. And most of the time they respect who the others are as individual people.

Above all, though, I liked Miranda herself. I loved her voice, and I loved the fact that she changes and grows and handles extreme circumstances better than many people would (better than I would, I suspect) while still remaining a believable teenager. She doesn’t give herself enough credit sometimes, but even that seems to be changing when the book ends. Also, Mrs Nesbitt. How cool was Mrs Nesbitt? I loved her almost Granny Weatherwax-ish no-nonsense approach to life and death.

I kept wondering how the story would end, and if the ending could possibly be satisfying. Fortunately, it was. It was hopeful, but there were no magical fixes. Some questions remained unanswered, but that felt right. It’s likely that if the situation were real people would never know certain things. If the answers had been given, it would probably have seemed too auspicious.

Life as We Knew It is an excellent book. I want to get my hands on the companion book, The Dead and the Gone, as soon as possible.

Other Blog Reviews:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker
Nothing of Importance
An Adventure in Reading
Becky’s Book Reviews
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Bottle of Shine
Books on the Brain
Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Some Reads
Presenting Lenore
The Sleepy Reader
A High and Hidden Place
Bookshelves of Doom
Bookfoolery and Babble
Reading Derby
It’s All About Books
Cosy Catastrophe
Reading Adventures
Hey Lady! Watcha Reading?
Jenny's Books
Jackets and Covers
Piling on the Books
Regular Ruminations

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one, Nymeth! I really loved it, and it scared me witless!!! Mostly because I knew that if it was my family in that situation, we'd have never made it. So many of the things Miranda's mom had the sense to do that ultimately saved their lives, I wouldn't have the means to do even if I did have my wits about me. Like all that cash she had to immediately go buy all that food. Or their wood-burning stove...we'd be totally screwed. Wow, I can't believe how much that book gets my heart pounding even after all this time.

  2. Ah ... I was trying to remember the name of this book _ thanks! It sounds fascinating :)

  3. I would never have dared to pick this book up if not for your fantastic review.. it is going immediately on my wishlist!

  4. A book that you dream about is powerful.

  5. Sounds interesting. Would you say it's primarily post-apocalyptic in tone? I love those kind of works.

  6. Oh goodness, yet another book to add to my to-read list! This one sounds really good.

  7. Great review! I was reminded of Anne Frank as well.

  8. I'm so happy to see you've reviewed this one. I just love it. A real life-changer that one. It's hard not to get all dark-and-pondery with it wondering how much 'stuff' you'd need to survive.

    Slightly, vaguely similar to your rant about Speaker for the Dead, is Pfeffer's use of well water for the family. The fact that it would take electricity--something they clearly don't have--to pump the water from the well into the pipes is something that takes me out of those scenes. When the electricity goes, the first thing to worry about is water--never mind being entertained--without water life gets unpleasant real quickly :)

  9. I loved this last year too. I just kept thinking of it, even months later. Must be the sign of a good book!

  10. I absolutely loved this book too, but I had several nightmares during and after reading it. The thought of this happening to Earth is so plausible that it made me very anxious. I truly love your insightful connections to other literature.....like below:

    She’s a little like Anne Frank, who was a young girl like so many others despite her extraordinary circumstances.

    Well done!!

  11. Thought-provoking and dark, two of the elements I like!!!

    Thanks for your lovely review, Nymeth! You can be sure I'll be checking out this book! :)

  12. This book scared the shit out of me! Excuse the foul language, but that's the best way to put it :p I loved it though, but seriously, it may be the most terrifying thing I've read in a long time. I had nightmares about this one too. The Dead and the Gone is quite scary too, but it's really more of a cry your eyes out book. She's working on the third book now which is supposed to tie the two together! I had some questions about the end...I couldn't tell if it was hopeful or if it was symbolic of something all together different which I can't talk about here without spoiling the book. But did you pick up on any of that? Or was it just me?

  13. I don't know why I've put off reading this for so long. Thanks for reminding me.

  14. This is one of the books that I have nominated to read for Sci-fi Experience. Given the news around here at the moment, I am not sure that I am ready for a survival story, but we will see how we go.

  15. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though I'm sorry it gave you nightmares! I have this one and hope to get to it this month still... Last year I read a similar one called Carbon Diaries which I really, really enjoyed - and you might too, judging by this review.

  16. I am seriously the only one convinced that the ending in this book was not happy, I think. >.>

    It's so lonely over here!

    Ever notice the mother wasn't named? I found that interesting.

  17. I keep readinggood reviews of this. I really need to get round to reading it!

  18. I just love the title of this book. And it sounds great too. I'll have to check it out.

  19. Its interesting that I have seen many a disaster movie dealing with asteroid impacts and such, but have not read any books about the same subject. Not fiction anyway. This sounds like an interesting (if slightly scary) read. Great review, thanks!

  20. I loved the book as well. I think the events in the book could have been what happened in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Interviews have him saying it was a meteror impact. I LAWKI earlier here:


  21. You've been nominated:

  22. I've read several reviews of this book lately, and for the most part they've all been positive. I did read one reviewer that said that she couldn't finish the book because it just disturbed her too much. It does intrigue me, and I think I'll give it a try.

  23. Whenever I look at all my canned goods, I have to think of this book. Should I get more just in case?

  24. Debi: I suspect I'd fail epically at surviving too. But who knows...maybe now that we've read this book we'll know what to do :P

    Maree, I think you'll enjoy it :)

    Ramya: it's scary, but well worth reading.

    Bermudaonion: indeed!

    Loren Eaton: I think it is, yes. And I love them too.

    Amanda: the constant danger of blogging: endless tbr additions :P

    Amanda #2: I wonder if Pfeffer had her in mind.

    Naida, it was!

    Becky: that completely escaped my notice, but you make an excellent point! This is why extensive research is so important for authors. Someone will always notice those innacuracies, and they'll inevitable pull them out of the story.

    raidergirl3: I suspect I'll be thinking about it for months too.

    Staci: I'm glad I wasn't the only one to get nightmares! And yeah...it IS plausible. That's why it's so scary.

    Melody: I love books like that too.

    Chris: lol, no worries :P This is one of the most terrifying books I've read in a long time too (though The Road is hella scary too). I didn't know about a third book! I'm looking forward to it already. Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ending...feel free to e-mail me!

  25. Charley, you're welcome! That's what book bloggers are for :P

    Marg: Yeah...probably not the best time for you :(

    Joanna: I hadn't heard of Carbon Diaries, but I'' check it out. Thanks!

    Renay: I wouldn't call it happy, but to me it seemed to suggest that the survivors were getting organized and begging to look after one another. But it's very much possible that's what I wanted to see. It seems that Chris is with you, though! And I didn't notice that about the mother, but it's indeed interesting.

    Jo, I hope you enjoy it when you do!

    Violet, I really love the title too.

    Mariel: more than slightly scary for me :P But still worth reading.

    Fear Death by Water: I didn't know McCarthy had said that, but that was more or less what I assumed when I read the book.

    thatsthebook: Thanks again :D

    Lisa: I found it scary, but actually less disturbing than some other post-apocalyptic stories out there. I hope you enjoy it!

    Lenore: I bet that thought will cross my mind from now on too.

  26. I agree this is such a wonderful book and I loved the characters especially Miranda and it is terrifying it could so easily happen!

  27. I still have to read the next installment of this book. But yes, it was creepy. Made you think. I know I was really impressed with the mom and how quickly she came up with plans. I don't know whether I could have done that!!

  28. This book sounds fantastic, but also really, really scary. I think I will go ahead and give it a try, but will follow your lead and not read it before bed.

  29. I've heard that this is a very good book more than once. I've been meaning to grab it at the library as it is usually on the stand starting at me. Your great review serves to remind me that I should.

  30. This has been on my wishlist for ever! and it sounds just like something I would be glued to from beginning to end!

  31. Alexa: It really is. I'm terrified of meteoroids :S

    Stephanie: She really was quick! And sensible. I don't think I'd have known what to do either.

    Zibilee: Definitely a wise idea!

    Dar, I look forward to your thoughts on it!

    Valentina: I suspect you would be, yes. I know I was!

  32. Wow looks like many people have read and reviewed this one. Sounds like something I would like I think. I had nightmares after reading the second The Dreaming manga in bed last week so you areon't alone scaring yourself by reading at night!

  33. Oh I've seen reviews of this! Took me a minute to recognize it. I've been a little curious about this.

  34. You make me want to jump out and get the book now. Bad girl. LOL

  35. Glad you enjoyed this one. I have to agree with your comments on the family dynamics. That was one of the most interesting things in this story for me. It's mind-numbing just contemplating how a disaster such as this would change the relationships you have with others and how to maintain a certain level emotionally. I was pretty impressed with how the author handled it.

  36. I've heard of this book, but I didn't think it was a must-read for me until reading your review. Actually, this might be a book that would entice my husband to read, his love of disaster movies and all. Thanks for the great review! It must be a powerful book if it ends up in your dreams.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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