Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Published June 10th 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hold on a sec.
Have you read this? It's a story with a familiar premise involving a giant meteor colliding with a neighboring celestial body, namely our moon. It was to be quite the show, nothing major but an event that would light up the sky and create a lasting once-in-a-lifetime memory. The world watched and waited, oohs and aahs on the tips of countless tongues like spectators gazing at fireworks on the 4th of July. Only, the meteor didn't just hit the moon.
It moved it.
The world erupted in a fury of storms, earthquakes, tidal waves and mayhem. In a matter of months all light from the sun was eclipsed by a blanket of volcanic ash and the summer gave way to dismal, piercing cold. No order, no protection, no comforts and no food.
Miranda and her family prepared for disaster better than some but there are several mouths to feed and an ever dwindling supply of food. Held captive in their suburban home enough miles from town to render any aid, even if it were available, useless, Miranda records the day to day survival of her family in her journal, detailing her family's every worsening conditions as cold, sickness and starvation bring them closer to death and desperation.
I grabbed this because it was dystopian and I've heard nothing but good things about it but given the premise I was prepared to be underwhelmed. They've made this concept into a movie several times over in the past few years. But those movies have never scared me, worried me, or distressed me the way this book did. There were no silly special effects, just a simple straight forward account of a time of absolute terror. I was so scared while I read it! I was cold and lost and I had to make myself put the book down from time to time just to get back to reality. I'd put the book down and look around amazed that I had electricity. I can admit to going into the kitchen and counting canned goods. This story is a million times better than any horror story because Miranda's narration made it so painfully real. I loved that there was no big heroic, climatic event. Had Miranda saved an infant falling into an earthquake crack or the government swooped in and picked them up in a helicoptor and sprinted them away to paradise I would probably have thrown it, but none of that happened. What happened was a normal family, just as yours or mine, who was so dependant on the comforts that their life had afforded them, suddenly found themselves with nothing, with an entire world so changed by catastrophe that they may never have anything again. Wonderful.
For a moment I thought about all the people throughout history who saw Halley's Comet and didn't know what it was, just that it was there and frightening and awe inspiring. For the briefest flick of a second, I could have been a 16-year-old in the Middle Ages looking up at the sky, marveling at its mysteries or an Aztec or an Apache. For that tiny instant, I was every 16-year-old in history, not knowing what the skies foretold about my future.
There are two other books in this Last Survivor series, the next being The Dead and the Gone which is another account of the devastation following the meteor crash, this time from New York. I cheated on my book buying diet and bought it already. I know it will not disappoint.
When this book was over, I was reminded of a time back at the end of August 2005. It was two-three days after Katrina and we were celebrating my dad's birthday. It was hotter than I ever thought possible (always is after a hurricane) and we were sitting in our old house, two blocks from the beach, where we stayed for the storm. It was a ridiculously stupid thing to do. The day of the storm and the days following Katrina were some of the scariest of my life. First the storm itself, which we all know how that went and after. No lights, the inescapable heat, strangers walking around at all hours, trying to open the doors, me and my mother there all day by ourselves because my dad had to go help FEMA.....and well, it was awful. But anyway, this is not a poor me Katrina story because SO VERY MUCH WORSE CAN AND HAS HAPPENED THROUGHOUT HISTORY, it was his birthday and we had runny scrambled eggs and the last of the bacon by candle light. Outside of our house, nothing about the coast was the same. Nothing. Still isn't. But inside, for a minute, I forgot that I was panicking and we had a birthday party. Like normal. I think that's what I love about Miranda's voice and her storytelling. She tells you about the normal that still exists, even when your world comes to an end.