Monday, July 14, 2008

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Copyright 2006
Harcourt, Inc./Young Adult Fiction
337 pages

Right now I'm reading about the American Revolution.
The soldiers had a tough time of it at Valley Forge.
My heart bleeds for them. [p. 276]

6-word review: Moon's orbit altered by meteor; disaster!

A great deal has been said about this post-apocalyptic young adult novel in the blog world, lately. I'm not sure I have much to add, but I really enjoyed Life as We Knew It, in spite of the fact that the word "harrowing" describes it well. The book is told from the viewpoint of Miranda, in journal form, and was written in a more simplistic form than I anticipated. But I thought it worked for the journal of a teenager. There's the usual teen angst before the meteor hits; and then, the world becomes a different place as the moon's changed orbit sets off immediate tidal waves that cause massive devastation, followed by volcanoes, earthquakes and dramatic climate change.

Why on earth do some of us enjoy post-apocalyptic literature? My viewpoint: The end of life as we know it is an endlessly fascinating "What if?" that can be imagined from numerous angles and really makes you ponder the skills we've lost, what we would have to learn to get by, how we would cope as individuals in a time of disaster, and just how bad it could really get.

Anyone who lived throught the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina or has been through some other major natural disaster (tsunami, earthquake, flood -- there have been plenty, in recent years) can probably relate Life As We Knew It on some level. I found myself reflecting back to our time without power, cell and telephone service after Katrina. The inability to find out what the heck happened out there; the panic as reality set in; the discomfort and boredom; the mile-long gas lines, fights over gasoline and the eventual dollar limits and security; the empty grocery shelves and bare freezers, immediately stripped as they were stocked . . . all of that happens in Life as We Knew It, just as it happened in real life.

The only thing I didn't like about the book: The two Christian characters in the book were portrayed pretty much as a lunatic and a greedy . . . um, bastard. Not sure how else to describe the minister, but he was really nasty and Miranda's friend Megan was just flat delusional. Faith is not always radical and I really find it horrifying when belief in God is portrayed in such a narrow way.

3.5/5 - Worth reading because it makes you think.

Other reviews, here:


  1. I had some of those concerns myself. As in I didn't think those "Christian" characters had anything to do with Christ.

    For a more positive spin (mostly) on how faith has an impact, you might want to try THE DEAD AND THE GONE in which we see what the Catholic church does in response. It's much more faith-friendly than Life As We Knew It. It's a companion novel. Set in New York City. Narrated by a 17 year old boy, Alex.

  2. Glad you liked it Nancy :) I had a problem with the religious thing too when I read it. I don't like it when religion is portrayed as just one big bad monster either. With that being said though, she balances things out in her second book, The Dead and the Gone. In that book, the church plays a hugely positive role. I'm curious as to why it was so negative in this book and why it was so positive in the second book. I guess she wanted to show how different people react to the same situation. Looking at the series as a whole, I can see her point, but she had to have seen that she was going to take some criticism when just this book was out!

  3. I'm due to read another Young Adult book and you know how much I love those post-apocalyptic tales, so this is definitely going on my list.

  4. I've heard about this one, but I hadn't paid enough attention to actually know what it's about. If I run across it at the library I think I might give it a go.

  5. Becky,

    That's a great way to put it, I don't think those "Christian" characters had anything to do with Christ. Maybe the author was trying to show that belief in a higher power can easily be twisted to the point that it's not really anything but the individual's will? Or something like that! :)

    I've already put The Dead and the Gone on my wish list. Not sure I can wait, though! I'm going to look for a copy, today.


    I don't like it when religion is portrayed as just one big bad monster

    My sentiments exactly, and very well stated. You could be onto something. Maybe the author wanted to show two ends of the spectrum. It would have been nice if she'd balanced the religious aspect better, but that was my only complaint about the book. I'd have read The Dead and the Gone, anyway, but I'm looking forward to it even more, now. :)


    Aren't we funny with our love of post-apocalyptic stories? The World as We Knew It is a nice, quick read because of the writing style. I'll look forward to reading your thoughts!


    I checked my copy out from the library and I'm glad I did. I don't consider it a keeper, but it was worth the time to read it and I will definitely read the companion novel.

  6. Anonymous4:23 PM

    I agree with with your insight, but felt the crazy Christian slant fit some people I know. :( Are you planning to read book II?

  7. I wondered why the Christians were negatively portrayed too. I did enjoy the book though. Very nice review.

  8. J.Kaye,

    That's true; I've known a few Christians who are what I'd call "Off the deep end," myself. Very few, though. Yes, I'm planning to read the second book, definitely. I was planning to go look for a copy today, but then my son's car developed an electrical problem (so he couldn't drive himself to work) and I got swatted down by a migraine, so I guess it will wait till another day. :)


    When religion is portrayed in such a radical way, I always find myself wondering if an author had a really bad experience. You just never know. But, yep, the book is still a really good read and I'm looking forward to reading the companion novel. Thank you! :)

  9. A very nice review. I'm with you on it, too! I wasn't blown away by the book like I had hoped I would be....but I still liked it. And I agree with you on the Christian characters. The minister was awful, and Megas was just nuts. But I can see how she got to that point, and it's sad really. Religion is supposed to be a backbone to help you live your life. Not something to make a sacrifice of your life. I truly don't think that is what Christ had in mind.

    Again...Nice review!

  10. Stephanie,

    Thank you. I think my biggest disappointment was the writing style, but the two Christian characters were definitely sad. I guess the minister could be compared to televangelists who've taken advantage of people to live cushy lives and Megan is a bit like a cultist in her zeal. You described religion so well -- Religion is supposed to be a backbone to help you live your life. So true!

  11. I'm definitely curious about this book. It's weird, I wouldn't think I am one to enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction but I can think of several books that fall into that category which I've greatly enjoyed -- Parable of the Sower, The Handmaid's Tale and A Gift Upon the Shore... Interestingly enough in some of these some of the "religious" people are also a bit, ah, loony. Have to think about that some more.

  12. Iliana,

    It struck me as odd when I realized that I actually really enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, hence my little analysis of what makes it appeal to some of us. I haven't read any of the titles you mentioned, although I'm pretty sure Parable of the Sower is on my wish list. I'll have to go look.

    That is an interesting observation. There are, I think, people who are convinced the "end times" are near in every generation. I discovered that by flipping through my mother's books. From my own experience with disaster, though, I can tell you the religious groups calmly stepped forward to do their part after Katrina. My church became an official Red Cross shelter for refugees during and after the storm, then they sent teams with food and water and, eventually, groups to help with rebuilding. It was awe-inspiring and may have something to do with my strong reaction to the negative religious portrayal in Life as We Knew It.

  13. I can only read post-apocalyptic literature once or twice a year. Anything more than that and it's just too depressing. The Road by Cormac McCarthy quickly filled my personal threshold this year!

  14. Nyssaneala,

    I space out my post-apocalyptic reads, too -- but I pretty much do that with everything. I try to blend the heavy with the light and nonfiction with fiction, etc., because I easily tire of the same old thing. So far, I haven't gotten to The Road. Maybe it's good that there are about 100 people in line ahead of me at PBS! :)

  15. Great review! I've seen some other really good reviews for this book and added it to Mt. TBR.

  16. Teddy Rose,

    Thanks! I enjoyed Life as We Knew It and looked for the companion novel, this weekend (no luck, so far, but I'll find a copy!). Do you ever have Mt. TBR avalanches? Just curious. We did, but I've been working on shoving the piles aside. My toes were tired of being sore. :)

  17. Anonymous1:41 PM

    I think Becky is right, the 'Christian' characters may have seem to been portrayed as bad people but were more influenced by a bad priest. Nobody's Perfect


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