Random Review: Life as We Knew It

I won this novel as part of a birth-month contest put on by Tara Anderson of The Librarian That Doesn’t Say Shhh. It’s one of her favorites, so for another take on the novel you can read her review here.

Disappointingly shallow novel suffering from an identity crisis.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer

Sixteen-year-old Miranda has bigger things on her mind than the fact that a meteor is about to hit the moon. Like prom, and that cute boy from her swim team. To her it’s not much more than a lame excuse for extra homework assignments. When the meteor knocks the moon out of orbit and closer to Earth, she and the rest of the planet are completely unprepared for the geological events that follow. Tectonic shifts result in earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Ash fills the skies, blocking out the sun and sending temperatures plummeting. Miranda’s family rallies together to survive as every system they have ever known fails around them: the schools, the power grid, the police force…

I’m afraid I’ve made this book sound a lot more exciting than it was. The entire novel is written in diary format and unfortunately the diarist is a bit of a dope. Miranda is nearly sixteen-going-on-seventeen but her thoughts read like those of an especially self-centered twelve-year-old. I suspect this may be because the novel is aimed at upper elementary/middle grades, but in that case it might have made more sense to show the events of the novel from a younger kid’s point of view. The narrator does not come across as particularly smart, capable, or nice. She does as she pleases until her helicopter mom jerks her back into line. The most well-rounded character in the novel is Miranda’s mother, who reads like a rather irritating author insertion.

Which brings me to my main problem with the novel: the characterization is shallow and language is simple, which suggests middle-grade fare (though middle-grade novels can certainly have rich characterization). However, the presentation of the premise suggests YA or plain old fiction for adults. I can imagine the premise being deeply unsettling to younger readers, and there are some fairly dark moments. The core idea could have been the seed for a great YA post-apocalyptic, but instead the reader gets a book that is somehow both disturbing and lame narrated by a boring teenage girl.

Some other random things that bothered me:

  • The science is extremely weak. If you are going to write a novel about a catastrophic event in planetary geology, do some serious research first. The movie-science might not bother readers who are not scientifically inclined.
  • The names are all weirdly generic mid-century standards, except for Miranda. Bob, Dan, Jonny, Carol, Grace…it just seemed odd. Especially since the novel is dated by the mother’s G.W. Bush-bashing.
  • The ending is basically a Deus Ex Machina, which makes for an exasperating finish to a dull read.

All in all, an exciting idea that resulted in a middling-to-bad novel with an identity crisis. A bit too realistically dark for many kids, and way too shallow for most adults.

For a better read in a similar age-range try: The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson.

Chair Rating:

The pieces are there, but they’ve been poorly assembled.