Title: Life As We Knew It
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Age Level: 6th-12th Grade
At the end of her sophomore year in high school, it seemed as though all Miranda's teachers could talk about was the impending collision of a meteor with the moon. But that event barely registered with Miranda-like most 16 year olds she was more concerned with boys, her friends, and getting her driver's license. But when the collision occurs, much more powerful than anyone predicted, it causes the moon to go off it's axis. This in turn causes tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and drastic weather changes. As the things that Miranda has always taken for granted start to disappear (like electricity, fresh food, and water), she is at turns angry, petulant, and finally resigned to the fact that life as she knew it is over. But she discovers that she is stronger than she imagined as she discovers what this new life might be about.
My book club decided to read this book, plus In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke, as our August book clib books. So while most book clubs were probably reading light, beachy reads, we were reading about the end of civilization as we know it-TWICE! As my best friend said, it sort of made you want to start hording canned food and bottled water by the time you were done. But both books were so well done that I can't really complain too much about the subject matter.
As the mother of a 16 year old myself I can tell you that Miranda's voice on this book rings completely true. At times completely self-absorbed, and at others seeming too mature for her age, Miranda deals with the crisis in the context of the things she knows best-her friends, her school, her family. Like In a Perfect World, this story is really a multi-layered structure. There is the science fiction story of the crisis and it's aftermath, there is the family drama of Miranda's relationship with her mother and father, who is remarried and not living with them at the time of the meteor collision, and there is a coming-of-age story complete with that make or break moment where Miranda's ability to handle what this new life throws at her leaves her a more mature, wiser person. Pfeffer handles all of these matters authentically and with style.
One thing that I appreciated about this novel, and the reason that I think you could use it as young as 6th grade, is that rather than show the world descending into violence and madness after the collision, it shows what I consider to be a much more realistic view of the slow disintegration of our societal institutions and culture. People do not immediately get guns and start shooting each other over a can of tuna-though they do start to gather resources and hide them away. People are wary of each other, but not hostile for the most part, and that feels more right to me. Outside of urban areas where violence seems to sprout up for much less reason than food shortages, in the more rural parts of the country where the story is set, I like to believe that in the event of a crisis of this magnitude people would be more likely to try and work together and help each other than lock themselves away and shoot on sight. Maybe that's just me being overly-optimistic, but that's what I want to believe, and maybe believing will make it true!
Susan Beth Pfeffer Resources
Scholastic Study Guide