The Last Survivors

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    Life as We Knew it is the first in a trilogy (The Last Survivors) by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It is told from the perspective of Miranda, a teenager (age 15?), and is written Anne Frank style as a series of first person diary entries. Miranda lives with her mother and younger brother in a small Pennsylvania community. Her older brother is away at college, and her father (divorced from her mother) is living with his new wife in up state New York. The book starts late in the spring, as the school year is nearing its end, and everyone is talking about an anticipated meteor strike on the moon. The meteor/asteroid/big rock strikes the moon as planned, and then everything goes wrong. The object was denser than expected, and the moon’s mass is increased. The moon immediately moves into an orbit closer to earth (becomes bigger as they watch) and its gravitational effects are greater. Tides become tsunamis. Earthquakes and volcanoes follow. Everything bad pretty much happens. Miranda writes about the last days of the school year without any electricity (the power grid goes down) and the shrinking school lunches (no food delivery). Things go down from there during the summer, and get worse with the freezing winter. The brother returns from college, and the mother tries to hold them all together. In all, the book covers about a 9 month span during which the family faces everything from an information black out to plague to progressive starvation to freezing to fire to roving bands of armed looters. Miranda grows during this book, and her story invokes a great deal of emotion.

    The second book in this trilogy is The Dead and the Gone. Set in the same world, this story is told second person from the perspective of Alex, a 17 year old living in New York city with his parents and two sisters. His father is away visiting family in Puerto Rico and his older brother is in the Marines. He is working after school in a restaurant when the asteroid hits the moon. His mother is at work at the same time across town. A tsunami takes out about half of the city and he never sees his mother again. Alex is left to fend for himself and his two sisters, living in their apartment building as most others (including his few relatives) flee the city. Like Miranda in Life as We Knew It, the characters in The Dead and the Gone are forced to mature and adapt. Like Life as We Knew It, this books packs a great deal of emotion.

    Overall, both of these books are very good reads. There are many nagging problems, mostly small points that don’t make much sense. For example, the moon being struck by a super dense asteroid and forced into a closer orbit to the earth (moving literally astronomical distances to get visibly bigger within seconds/minutes) and immediately causing tsunamis. Wouldn’t it take longer for the moon to move so that it is visibly bigger? Wouldn’t it take longer, maybe even a complete rotation of the earth, for tidal waves to gain enough momentum to become tsunamis? In Life as We Knew it the family relies upon well water. How they continue to get it flowing through their pipes with no power is never explained. But, suddenly their well runs dry because they over use it and there is no rain…while a neighbor down the block still has water because she doesn’t use it as much. Little things, really, a bit nagging, but they do not truly detract from these great books.

    Religion plays a significant part in both books, but as a part of the characters lives and is not forced nor detracts from the story. Miranda and her family are not particularly religious, but some of her friends are and her interactions with them and theirs play pivotal moments in the book. Alex and his family are Catholic, and the Catholic church and faith are instrumental in their story. There is no preaching, though, and no forcing of religion by the author in these books (as you might get in other books such as the Restoration series by Terri Blackstone, I could only get through the first installment of that–Last Light–and I almost could not stomach that).

    The next book in the trilogy, This World We Live In, is due for release on 01 April 2010, per Amazon.com.

    These books are considered to be for young adults (grades 6-7+), but at age 35 and working on a master’s degree I found them to be more than mature enough for my tastes. These books may well be enjoyed by a whole family.

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