Life as we knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a beautiful dystopian novel about a family trying to survive and not let hunger, cold and fear take over their lives.
After a huge asteroid hits the moon and pushes it closer to Earth, all kinds of natural disasters ensue; tsunamis bury whole countries, storms destroy buildings and leave cities in the dark, and after volcanoes erupt all over the world, the sky is filled with dark ash that makes breathing impossible and blocks out the sun. In the middle of this new, dangerous world lives Miranda, a 16-year-old girl who just a day before everyone started talking about the moon wanted to go to prom and pass her math exam. Now she and her family have to find a way to survive in a world with no electricity and no means of communication.
I absolutely loved this book. It’s unlike any other dystopian novel I’ve read or even heard of, because while most of those stories focus on oppressive power and someone fighting the government, this book is about a single family, not trying to change the world but just trying not to die. It’s very powerful in a sad way – we don’t see anything dramatic happening, no powerful people kidnapping and torturing innocent citizens, but instead follow this family as they have to start skipping meals and sleeping in the cold because they know the food is not gonna last, and they have to save the heating oil for the winter. So it’s a raw, beautiful story, all about friendship and family and loving each other when life is difficult.
The story is told by Miranda, who is keeping a journal and writes down all the terrible things that are happening around her. The way she writes makes the story even more believable, because she keeps telling herself that maybe all of it is just a dream, and she holds on to the things she wanted before the asteroid hit the moon, like going on a date and finishing school. This is heartbreaking at times, seeing how she doesn’t want to be a part of this new life and tries to ignore everything around her. At first she fights a lot with her family, mostly over small things, but she later becomes selfless and realises that if she doesn’t help, they have no chance of surviving. That is perhaps the most tragic part of this story – the way everyone starts doing those terrible, selfless things because they figure if one of them has to die, it should be them.
There is this constant feeling of dread and anxiety that follows the story, and no matter what happens, you are always terrified, always thinking that something terrible is going to happen. Even if one of the characters just leaves the house for ten minutes, the way it’s written makes you think of all the ways they could die, and you can’t breathe properly until you know they’re fine. This makes the story so incredibly believable, because you really feel like you’re there with them, worrying about the winter and counting down the cans of food.
What made this story truly wonderful is the family. I haven’t read a lot of stories that focus on nothing but parents and siblings, and this book made me think that maybe I should. Miranda’s relationship with everyone was believable and sweet; she fights with her mother, she looks up to her older brother and goes to him for advice, and they all try to protect the youngest child, keeping from him how desperate the situation really is. They all grow a lot through this experience, becoming increasingly more serious and irritable, but also easier to please with the smallest of happy moments. On special days they eat more and give each other improvised presents, laughing and smiling about the silliest of things.
The ending is absolutely fantastic – the anxiety that runs through the last few pages is almost unbearable, but ultimately I think the author did a great job of ending the novel, making it a good and believable last chapter, with just enough of the story left open to the reader’s imagination. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story and a book that I couldn’t put down. I definitely recommend it, especially for fans of The Day after Tomorrow.
‘Till next time and happy reading!