Saturday, August 14, 2010

This World We Live In, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Title:  This World We Live In
Author:  Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publisher:  Harcourt Children's Books
Year:  2010
Pages:  256
Genre:  Science Fiction/Dystopian
Age Level:  7th Grade and Up

Plot Summary:
This World We Live In continues the story of two families after a meteor hits the moon, changing its orbit and causing its new gravitational pull to start tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions all over the world.  The narrator of this book is the same as the first book in the trilogy, Life As We Knew It, Miranda.  Her family-her mother, two brothers, and cat-have survived the winter, with the help of the food the government has been delivering to people still living in her area.  Most of the people in their small town have either left or died.  The weather is getting marginally warmer, and the days are longer, if still gray with volcanic ash.  They occasionally have electricity for a few hours at a time.  During one of those days when the electricity is working, something miraculous happens-the doorbell rings.  Standing outside are Miranda's father, step-mother, new baby brother, and a small band of survivors, including a boy about Miranda's age named Alex.  The two groups try to decide how to live on the extremely limited resources they have, and start sending the young people out to scavenge in empty houses for anything usable.  Miranda soon realizes she has feelings for Alex, and when a tornado rips through what is left of their town, she is forced to make a decision that could change all of their lives.

When I read Life As We Knew It, I literally could not put it down.   The story of Miranda's family was fascinating to me.  One of the things I loved about the first book was the way that Pfeffer showed that there would be a slow breaking down of society, and I especially liked that she did not write a story about how suddenly we would all turn into raving lunatics with guns shooting each other over a can of cat food, which is what so many dystopian novels or movies portray.  I personally think that humanity is better than that.

This book was just as gripping, but much less satisfying in the end.  Once again Pfeffer's writing style, and the authenticity of Miranda's character, made me feel like I was reading a real journal by a real person.  Sometimes that format can feel contrived, but not in this case.  I was glad for the addition of new characters-while the first book showed the slow narrowing of their world to just the sunroom and the four of them, this novel highlighted our need to be part of community.  I did not read the second book in the trilogy, The Dead and the Gone, so I'm sure that some of my disappointment is due to not knowing what happened to Alex and his sister Julie before they joined up with Miranda's father and his group.  Because after getting every detail of every day of the beginning of the crisis, things seemed to jump around a lot in the second half of this book.  I couldn't understand why Alex was so insistent not to stay with the group, or why Miranda's step-mother was so attached to Julie.  But that slight dissatisfaction, of my own making, really for not reading the second book, was nothing compared to the end.  I want more!  I want to know where they go and what happens to them!  I searched the internet last night looking for anything that could tell me if this series is going to continue, and given that everything I found-including the author's blog-lists it as a trilogy I guess I'm out of luck. From a teacher's perspective this is not necessarily a bad thing-it can lead to great discussions and writing projects about what becomes of them and America in the future.  But from a reader's point of view-I'll always wonder what became of them.

Teacher Resources:

Official Readers Guide for Trilogy  

This World We Live In Book Trailer 

Interview with Susan Beth Pfeffer 

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