I read Susan Pfeffer’s ‘Life As We Knew It’ in a single day. This is unusual for me. I’m capable of finishing a book in a day, especially if it’s one I’ve been waiting for, but generally I only get to read during my one hour lunch break at work. So it takes me anywhere from a handful of days to over a week to finish a book.
But 'Life As We Knew It' is a book that’s impossible to read slowly. It’s fairly short for a start and it’s written in the form of a diary which I don’t know about anyone else but always makes me read faster. It’s because each “entry” is so short, you just keep thinking you’ll read one more then stop, right up until the last one.
But mostly it’s 'Life as We Knew It's' the plot that keeps you turning pages. A freak asteroid crashes into the moon and knocks it closer to the Earth, and everything goes to hell. I can’t comment on how plausible that set up is, I have a suspicion in might be up there with team of rough oil drillers on an asteroid in terms of plausibility, but Pfeffer sold it very well. The consequences of the moon’s increased proximity to earth read as believable to me, and each change grew naturally from the one before it.
The easiest to predict change was that the tides went mad, which I’m sure everyone could have anticipated. The book’s main character Miranda lives far away from any oceans, so while she’s upset it doesn’t effect her all that much. But whereas the tides I saw coming, there were other consequences that I hadn’t considered, but which seemed logical in hindsight. Like, because the moon is closer i’s gravitational pull has changed so all the volcanoes start going nuts. Which leads to epic and lasting ash clouds, which leads to early winter and so on.
Part of what kept me turning page after page was to see what would go wrong next. I kept thinking surely things can’t get any worse, and of course they always did. Pfeffer really taps into that whole apocalypse porn / voyeuristic mentality that serves disaster films so well. It goes without saying that I would never want millions of people to die in real life, but there’s something wickedly enjoyable about reading fictional accounts of it.
Having said that, despite the large scale and cinematic nature of the disasters that befall the world in this book, it is a very different beast from your average disaster movie. Where the big budget blockbuster tries to convey the immense scale of what has happened, usually through multiple locations and characters, Pfeffer keeps things tightly focused and, as the book progresses, increasingly claustrophobic.
There’s Miranda, her two brothers and their mother. As things start to go pear shaped their mother immediately adopts a very “us before them” kind of view. At one point she reprimands Miranda for leaving a queue for free supplies to get a friend. It’s hard, because you can understand Miranda’s natural impulse to help people, but you can also appreciate her mother’s harsh practicality.
This only becomes more confronting as things get worse and worse and you start to realise, before even Miranda herself, that her Mother and eldest brother have realised that they might not all survive. Objectively the youngest brother would have the best shot, and you see them start to put his well being first. Watching Miranda evolve from a typical, vaguely selfish teenage girl to one who can accept this was fascinating.
To me the best thing about YA books is that they can pose questions that perhaps more adult texts can’t get away with. ‘Life As We Knew It’ certainly does that, and while there was nothing about the prose or the characters that was truly breathtaking or spectacular I’m sure I will be picking up the next books in this series.
This book: I bought