Book Review, Susan Pfeffer, Young Adult

Book review: Life As we Knew It by Susan Pfeffer

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. (From Goodreads.com)


When Becky @ The Bookette wrote a fantastic review of this book and told me in a Twitter exchange that it’s a must read, I took her word for it. One thing I’ve learned since I discovered Becky’s blog is if she says a book is a good ‘un, then she is likely right (seriously, if you haven’t visited her yet, then you really must!). Once again she was absolutely spot on and I was glued to this book from beginning to end.

Life as We Knew It is a terrifying account of survival through the eyes of 15 year-old Miranda as she writes in her diary. A fairly ordinary girl whose main concerns are school, friends and a crush on a local ice skating star, until an asteroid strikes the moon and pushes it closer to earth. With the world consumed by tidal waves, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, vast amounts of the population are wiped out and the subsequent loss of electricity, gas, water and food, each day becomes a fight for survival against starvation and disease.

The most horrifying aspect of this book is just how possible the situation is. A massive natural disaster could happen at anytime, we seem to be seeing them increasingly in recent years and one on such a gigantic worldwide scale as in Life As we Knew isn’t all that difficult to believe in. Susan Pfeffer drives home just how vulnerable and unprepared we really are once the things we rely on daily are gone and it is truly the stuff of nightmares. It also makes the recent disruption to air traffic from Volcanic Ash seem nothing more than a slight inconvenience, as daylight is completely lost to the stuff in Life As We Knew It, while also giving it a more sinister and worrying presence in my mind.

I also found the speed with which civilized society broke down shocking, but again not hard to imagine. I think possibly one of the points Pfeffer may have been making is how in our isolated, busy and selfish lives we have lost the ability to pull together as a community. I like to believe that this isn’t true, that we would work together and help each other. However I also can’t help but think about an experience we had when my daughter was just a few weeks old. Our City was badly flooded and we lost electricity for two whole days and i was cut off from my family both by road and phone. Living in a neighbourhood where people kept themselves to themselves and rarely even glimpsed the people living in the houses next to us, we didn’t see a soul for those two days. We sat wrapped in quilts, huddled around a couple of candles and waited. It was surreal, it felt like we were the only ones left in the world. Looking back, why didn’t we call on our neighbours? Why did no-one check on us? Two days later everything was back to normal, but reading Life As We Knew it reminded me about how isolating that experience was. I also wonder if I was in Miranda’s mother’s position would I be the same as she? Would I prefer not to think if people were starving just down the road, because offering food to them could mean my own child would run out of food a day earlier? I honestly don’t know. I both hated and respected the mother as she became selfish and ferocious in her quest to protect her family.

The whole book is written as a diary from 15 year-old Miranda and yet again was completely realistic. To begin with Miranda isn’t even interested in the excitement leading up to the underestimated impact, in fact she’s pretty fed up about it because of all the extra homework heaped on her to do with the moon. Afterwards, she doesn’t suddenly become a hero, she remains a young girl and thus is angry, resentful, moody and at times plain selfish. Sometimes, some of the more technical details of their survival is a little sketchy, but to me it seems right that a fifteen year old girl would document her resentment at missing prom and having her first relationship thwarted before it even begins. This becomes not just a story of survival, but a girls struggle to come of age and define herself when everything she has ever expected has been snatched away.

Life As We Knew it is a truly amazing book and one which I just couldn’t stop reading. I began on a Sunday afternoon and didn’t stop until the early hours of Monday morning, having to literally tear myself away to do the things I needed to do. It’s a story that I’m still thinking about, days after finishing and will stay with me for a long time. My one complaint is that it ends rather abruptly and I was left desperately wanting to know more. Thankfully there are another two books in The Last Survivors series (the Dead And The Gone and This world We live In) and I immediately ordered them.

Huge thanks to Becky for introducing me to this series.

8 thoughts on “Book review: Life As we Knew It by Susan Pfeffer”

  1. Fascinating review – sharing your real-life experience was a really great insight. This book is brilliant, isn't it? Definitely scary in that 'this could happen' way.

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  2. lovely review Rhiana i felt like i was the only person who had read this book! i read it a few years back and its always stayed with me,it really shook me, your experience sounds horrible im sorry that you had to go through it, the scary part of the book is about how much it makes you think, i had a pleasant surprise recently when i came across the sequel in my library, i hope to review life as we knew it very soon becuase it truly is a special books, thanka for the memories πŸ™‚

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  3. I loved this book too especially the plausibility of it. While a lot of dystopian/apocalyptic books seem to be so…..action oriented, this book showed the day to day fight for survival. I've only read the 1st book in the series but I have the others!

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  4. Oh hey I'm so glad you liked it! And the UK cover design is really pretty!! I've had this on my shelf for awhile, but I'll have to bump it up πŸ˜€

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  5. Oh wow! I am so glad you read this. I love your personal view on the book. I can imagine the flooding experience was terrifying especially with a new baby. Maybe we all need to be a little more open to developing friendships with our neighbours. It really isn't something our generation really does, is it? We are all too busy (or say we are). Always in a rush, always moving. Self first, others last.

    What a great review! You've put me in philosophical mode.

    By the way, thank you for the lovely comments. When people read a book you recommend and love it, it is the best feeling in the world. Thanks so much!

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  6. Absolutely love this series. Now that you read this one you just have to read The Dead and the Gone, which takes place in New York and follows Alex and his sisters as they deal with the horrors of surviving, and This World We Live In, which bring Miranda and Alex together. Awesome review!

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