Book Review: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Last Survivors #1)
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Format: Paperback
Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Young Adult
Publication Date: 10.01.2006
It's almost the end of Miranda's sophomore year in high school, and her journal reflects the busy life of a typical teenager: conversations with friends, fights with mom, and fervent hopes for a driver's license. When Miranda first begins hearing the reports of a meteor on a collision course with the moon, it hardly seems worth a mention in her diary. But after the meteor hits, pushing the moon off its axis and causing worldwide earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, all the things Miranda used to take for granted begin to disappear. Food and gas shortages, along with extreme weather changes, come to her small Pennsylvania town; and Miranda's voice is by turns petulant, angry, and finally resigned, as her family is forced to make tough choices while they consider their increasingly limited options. Yet even as suspicious neighbors stockpile food in anticipation of a looming winter without heat or electricity, Miranda knows that that her future is still hers to decide even if life as she knew it is over.

I hate the moon. I hate tides and earthquakes and volcanoes. I hate a world where things that have absolutely nothing to do with me can destroy my life and the lives of people I love.
-Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as we Knew It

Wow. I finished this book, and that's all I could say. What this family goes through is incredibly heartbreaking, and I cried many times while reading. They were tears of gratitude and hope, as if I had been through everything with them. And in a way, I had.

The format of this book--entries in a diary--was the perfect choice for the story. We see how Miranda's ordinary life is completely rocked after the meteor collides with the moon. Everything changes, and so does Miranda...but she doesn't do it quickly. With each new entry, we see her adjusting to a new way of life, surviving during this desolate time, and helping her family to survive as well. All the events are colored by her changing perception, which adds another layer of depth; something else to think about about digest, as somewhere along the way she grows from a bratty and selfish teenager, to a girl who would sacrifice anything for her family. Her character growth is fantastic.

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.
-Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as we Knew It

The writing is tragic, hopeful, insightful, and brutally honest. Miranda and her family face a lot of trials, and not all of them are physical. I really like this family. Pfeffer could have chosen to write her story about a family who was so troubled, who had no food and no house and so many trials that only one of them makes it. This is not that story. Instead, Pfeffer wrote about a family who was strong to begin with and who made the right decisions the the beginning that ensured they would have a fighting chance. She chose to write about a family who stayed put, who try everything they could to survive, and even then things look grim. Because of this, their troubles were sometimes so subtle, they were easy to miss--emotional, mental, and spiritual troubles--but they made a deep impact on me while reading.

That's not to say that the book is perfect. It definitely has flaws. For one thing, I'm pretty sure scientists wouldn't "miscalculate" the effects of a huge asteroid hitting the moon, but I'll suspend disbelief on that subject, because--what do I know? What I can't suspend disbelief of, is that afterward, no one would be able to predict the effects of the moon being pushed closer to the Earth. The family listens to the news, and all anyone says is that they aren't sure what effects there will be, but they're sure everything will be okay. Wrong! Something like that would be a breeding ground for theories and debates from scientists all over the world. I understand that power was scarce, but I would hope someone, at least, would have the decency to tell the truth to the citizens of the world during one of the TV/radio programs, and let them know what to prepare for. Scientists are smart like that.

But I digress.

Despite the above, I was still fascinated with this book. It gave me the chills. Not because it was scary, but because this is something that could legitimately happen. Maybe it won't be the moon that is pushed closer to the Earth, but there are plenty other natural disasters that could force people to live this way and barely survive. It forced me to remember that this is a big possibility, and made me renew my resolve to finally have some sort of food storage put together.

 If you tend to get bored easily with books, you may want to give yourself a lot of time to read this one. The story takes place over the course of about a year. Because it is a diary, the entries are almost daily and sometimes the feelings and emotions are so subtle, it's easy to find yourself bored (yes, this is from experience). If you think you can manage it though, I highly recommend reading it. This is a book that I would recommend to pretty much anyone. The life-or-death circumstances, and sometimes even the urgency, make it hard to put down.

Here's the funny thing about the world coming to an end. Once it gets going, it doesn't seem to stop.
-Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as we Knew It

Read this if:
...you like reading emotional dramas, and you think you have what it takes to survive the end of the world.

Content Warning
*This section may contain some spoilers about content!*
Clean read.

Other Books in the Series:

Purchase Life as We Knew It:
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  1. Nice review. I listened to this on audiobook so I hear you about occasionally being bored/having it feel like a long read. But it seriously made me want to go stock up on a bunch of canned foods & first aid supplies. It definitely left an impression!

  2. I've been on the fence about this one. Great review though.

  3. Kathy: I totally felt the same way! Reading it, I realized just how behind I am on my food storage!

    Juju: You should give it a try! I think you would enjoy it. :)

  4. I tried leaving a comment earlier, but it wasn't working. Glad it is now!

    I absolutely love this book, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it too! I can't imagine going through what Miranda and her family have to. I was really happy with the ending, and how it left the book off on a hopeful note. I can't wait to read the sequel, but I wonder what it will be like, as it is not in journal format. Awesome review!

  5. T.B.: I'm glad, too! I had no idea my comments weren't working until days later. :/

    I'm glad you hear you liked this book, too! I can't wait to read the next one either. Thanks for stopping by!


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