I just finished the audiobook of Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and really enjoyed it. It’s a fairly short young adult novel that takes place in the months following a world-wide catastrophe caused by the moon being knocked out of its orbit by a passing meteor. This causes tsunami, earthquakes and volcanoes sprouting up all over the world. None of this affects our main characters directly, but it does cause a breakdown of civilization, complete with no more food deliveries, or gas and electricity.
The story is told first-person by Miranda, a sixteen year old girl, writing in her diary. We get an entry about every day or so, with the occasional break of a few days. When things start to look like they could go bad, Miranda’s mother is smart enough to stock up on food and other supplies. This turns out to be just about the last food they’ll have available for most of the story. Through Miranda’s diary, we then get to hear how the family survives through the winter, made much worse than normal by skies grayed with dust from volcanoes.
I did like the book, but whether on purpose or not, it avoids what I would expect to be the more realistic aspects of this kind of situation. I mean it’s clearly a young adult book, and so it feels a little soft.
For example, Miranda and her family are slowly starving to death as they try to stretch their food supplies through the winter. They’re skipping meals to make their food last longer, but they consider going back to school when it opens, and waste time and energy on things like going ice skating. They did spend a lot of time preparing stocks of firewood, but there’s not one mention of trying to go hunting or even fishing. They live near woods so there must be wild animals of some sort nearby, or a stream with fish in it. They never even get a gun for their own protection. Though it turns out they wouldn’t need one, because there’s barely any mention of looting or any violence at all. If I was in a town full of starving people I’d expect theft, looting, even murder as people did anything to stay alive.
In one scene near the end Miranda comments about how many houses she sees with no signs of life, and she mentions that some of the people left, but that some must have died of illness. I was screaming at the cd player in my car that if they didn’t starve to death, there’s probably food in those houses. And at the very least, the dead bodies themselves would be preserved by the cold, though I guess those kinds of ideas wouldn’t be in an 8th grade novel.
So overall, it’s not The Road, but it was very enjoyable. The author has written a companion novel, The Dead and the Gone, which takes place in the same universe during the same catastrophe, though it focuses on how a group of characters in New York City survive. That one is supposed to be “grittier” so hopefully I’ll like it even more.