Thursday, May 8, 2014

As the world ends, families come together.

It's amazing how life can change in an instant. Forgetting to check your blind spot while driving, or carelessly mowing the yard, can have consequences that last forever. Lightning strikes cause forest fires that decimate hundreds of acres, and tornadoes can flatten towns in a matter of minutes.

In Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It, Miranda is an eyewitness as one of these events happens. It's been the most talked about astronomical event in a generation: an asteroid is about to hit the moon, and it's large enough to be seen with just a normal pair of binoculars. All the new stations have been bringing astronomers on to talk about it, and Miranda's teachers have been trying to elbow moon-related topics into their lesson plans.

But no one could have expected that the astronomers would be so wrong. No one knew that the asteroid would be orders of magnitude more dense than anything they'd ever seen before. So when that huge piece of space debris hit the moon, it didn't just put on a show for the amateur stargazer. The asteroid hit with such tremendous force, in fact, that it moved the moon visibly closer.

With the increased gravitational pull of the moon on the Earth, the planet is thrown into chaos. The tides rise higher than even the worst tsunamis, literally wiping island nations off the map. Earthquakes strike areas that have weak fault lines, but haven't shaken in centuries. Satellites are disabled, and the worldwide information grid is shut down.

Underneath all of those worldwide crises, there are the day to day problems of living in a world turned on its head. Miranda is a high school girl, who lives with her mother and younger brother in northern Pennsylvania. She has most of the normal high school girl problems: a mother who pushes the schoolwork, friends who are drifting away, an ankle injury that cut short her dreams of figure skating. Like most girls, she was pretty unremarkable, and the journal that she kept only reinforced it.

But as the world crumbles around her, the journal that she's keeping becomes more and more compelling. Public utilities stop working, school is cancelled, and their well runs dry. With the lack of satellites the television quickly becomes channel after channel of emergency signals, and the radio stations soon fade out.As winter begins months early, and both food and fuel begin to run out, it will be all that the family can do to stay together and stay alive.

Unlike so many of the young adult books I've read lately, I truly like Miranda. She's far from perfect, and since it's her journal everything we see is through her eyes, but she is absolutely the most relatable character I've come across in YA in a long time. She fights with her mother over silly things, she resents both the freedoms that her older brother receives and the special treatment of her younger brother. She's a fairly capable, independent young lady, but still mourns the loss of her friends, whether physical or emotional. She worries about her father and his new family, and her sister or brother-to-be. She does the best she can in the situation that she's found herself, and few readers could honestly say they would do better.

Life as We Knew It is a refreshing take on the young adult dystopian novel, without the tired love triangles and created drama that have become hallmarks of the genre. 

Highs: Watching a family try to pull together in a crisis, even when it's hard, is always uplifting.

Lows: I never like books with unreliable narrators, and a few scene might not have happened quite as Miranda writes them, but for the most part it's minimal.

Verdict: Different enough to stand out in a field flooded with dystopian fiction, LIfe as We Knew It is a wonderful, realistic look at a family in crisis.

Further Reading: The Dead and Gone, The Book Thief, Shades of Grey, Under a Graveyard Sky

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