Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.  

Rating: Four Stars—Great


Okay, can we just pause for a moment to admire that gorgeous cover? When I first picked up LIFE AS WE KNEW IT in the library eons and eons ago, the cover was what initially drew me in. I imagine this is what love feels like.

Like I said, I first read this ages ago, probably pretty soon after it came out, and it was only in recent times that I remembered the title. Thanks to my scatterbrainedness (yes, that is totally a word), I wasted years trying to figure out what this glorious book was called and who the author was and how I could get my greedy hands on a copy of my own. Imagine my triumph, then, when I found this in Barnes & Noble. (I bought it and devoured it within moments.)

So enough about me—let’s talk about LIFE AS WE KNEW IT.

The Premise. When astronomers predict that an asteroid will hit the moon, most everyone is excited to witness the event. However, what astronomers fail to predict is that the asteroid will knock the moon much closer to earth, thus drastically altering life all over the globe. Tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions—caused by the increased gravitational pull—scar the earth. And as winter begins to fall, Miranda and her family struggle to survive in the face of starvation. (In other words, you need to read this book. You know, if you want.)

Now for the good stuff. The juicy details. The reasons why I would steal this book from a baby if I had to (aside from that fact that it features the moon, which is reason enough on its own, let me tell you).

The characters. Hmm, I had mixed feelings about them, but the fact that I didn’t like them all the time made them feel more real.

First off, we have sixteen-year-old Miranda who records the story through a series of diary entries, which makes the book feel homey and cozy. (Mainly I just like the thought of reading someone’s journal, even if it is made up. But I digress.)

My favorite character, Matt, is soft-spoken and kind (for the most part), and Miranda thinks of him as her hero. How sweet is that? (They’re siblings, in case you were wondering.) But even though I really liked him, sometimes I also hated him a little, which is great because I don’t like it when authors create cotton-candy characters.

We don’t get to know Miranda’s younger brother, Jonny, very well, but we do get to watch him grow both emotionally and physically. And while he doesn’t have a huge part, he still feels like one of the highlights of the story.

Kooky and loveable, Mrs. Nesbitt lives next door to Miranda’s family. With her dry sense of humor and her slightly morbid outlook, she adds the perfect touch of semi-crazy. I mean, it’s the end of the world, so she buys a bunch of gourmet food.

And then we have Miranda’s mom. I’ll admit, I don’t like her nearly as much, and I’ll explain why later.

Despite their flaws, the family behaves in a believable way. They don’t spend all their time moping around, neither do they pass their days singing Kumbaya and painting flowers. Though they clearly love each other, they also fight like cats and dogs, and they struggle with very natural, very understandable emotions—fear at their prospects, anger at their loss, annoyance at being cooped up in close quarters for so long. Honestly, I felt like the fifth member of the family, silent but present, and I cared about what happened to them.

The atmosphere. Some books are easy to put down. I’ll read bits and pieces when I can find the time, but I can shut the cover on the story and leave it behind without a fuss. But LIFE AS WE KNEW IT had staying power. Even when I set it aside to do other things, it hung over my mind like a heavy fog, and I couldn’t shake it off. I had to keep reminding myself that the moon was in its proper spot and that I didn’t need to worry about starving to death.

Also, more specifically, I loved the grocery shopping scene near the beginning of the book where Miranda and the others are stocking up so they can hunker down. As they stuffed their carts with various essentials, running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to figure out what they’d need, I felt that tingling in my spine I get when I’m battening down the hatches and preparing for a thunderstorm. Which happens to be one of the coziest, most delicious feelings ever. Even if the rest of the book were awful, which it isn’t, I would buy it just for that scene.

But I did have a few issues with this book.

Running Water. Okay, maybe I overlooked something, but Miranda’s family has running water long after the electricity has gone out. Now, maybe it’s not this way for everyone, but I know in my house, we don’t have running water without power.  

Miranda’s Mother. Ughhh, Laura got on my nerves. Sure, she was realistic and believable and I liked that. But sometimes I felt she was over the top. Often her arguments with Miranda turn into screaming matches, and on several occasions Laura tells Miranda to get out of her sight, or something along those lines. Um, not okay. I would have appreciated it if Laura had owned up to at least some of the times she acted like she hated her daughter, but aside from a few symptoms of remorse, she never out and out apologizes.

The Reverend. When we meet the Reverend, it becomes pretty clear that he’s been eating plenty because starving members of his congregation have given him food. Furthermore, when a woman hangs herself, he refuses to bury her next to her daughter because he doesn’t want to soil the daughter’s grave with the mother’s “impure remains”. Humph. Suicide is unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to condemn those who take such drastic measures.

Megan. Megan, who is a little bit better than the Reverend, is still frustrating. She spends too much time trying to be a goody-two-shoes and too little time admitting that, like it or not, she is an imperfect human being just like everyone else.

The Chocolate Chip Scene. Grrr, this scene. So Miranda comes into the pantry and sees all the food they have stockpiled. Right away she gets angry because her mother has had them all on starvation diets (to conserve food, of course, but Miranda isn’t thinking straight), so she breaks into the bag of chocolate chips. When her mother catches her, she orders Miranda to eat the entire bag and then screams at her that she had been saving those chocolate chips for Matt’s birthday and now he won’t get to enjoy his favorite cookies. *sad face* But you only need about half a standard bag of chocolate chips to make a decent-sized batch of cookies, and Miranda had only eaten about a third before her mother caught her. Instead of making Miranda eat the rest, and thus depriving Matt even more, Laura could have saved the remainder and still made plenty of cookies. Problem solved.

In Conclusion. There were bits that annoyed me, but I am still very glad I found this book again, and I’ll probably reread it a bunch of times before I’m dead and gone.


  1. THIS BOOKS SOUNDS GOOD. Not blow your mind kinda book, but still a cool book :) also, I love journal formats too. (mainly because I'm an evil nosy prying thing) but also because it adds a more comfortable touch to the book? I don't know. BUT I SO SO WANT TO READ THIS OMG. Lovely review, Liz <3

    1. IT IS SO GOOD. You're right--it isn't a mind blower or a mind boggler, but it definitely has a great atmosphere. Journal formats are so great (although they can also be lame, so it's six of one, half dozen of another). Yeah, it does add a comfortable, personal touch--kind of homey. YOU REALLY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK (you know, if you want).

      Thanks! <3