Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer

Fifteen-year-old Miranda has a pretty normal life, until a meteor hits the moon.  It shoves the moon closer to the earth (eek!), which as you might expect does not do good things for the earth.  Tsunamis take out New York and Florida and California; volcanoes begin erupting all over the place, filling the air with ash for miles around.  And Miranda’s family copes.

I first heard about this book shortly after I read Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and I didn’t want to do another girl-copes-with-end-of-world-scenario book straight away, because of how grim How I Live Now was.  But I needed a book to read last night when I was picking my father up from the airport, so here we are.  I read most of it in bed last night – I stopped at a stopping point and switched off the light, and then realized if I didn’t get at least two-thirds of the way through, I wouldn’t be done by this morning in time to return it to the library before going to England, so I switched the light back on and kept reading.

As soon as I reached the scene at the beginning where Miranda and her family go on a shopping craze at the grocery store, I knew I should stop reading.  It was already upsetting, and nobody important had even died yet.  When we have hurricanes on the way, the grocery stores are like this – nothing left, crowds of cars, people filling up enormous jugs of gas for their cars.  I did not like to read about it in Life As We Knew It.

In 2007, I was interviewing a guy at a halfway house in town, and this is the story he told me.  When the hurricane hit (this was Katrina), the water began rising in their house, too high for them to stay there, and they didn’t have an attic.  They had two girls, a four-year-old and a one-year-old.  He kicked down the door to their house, because it was wood and it would float, and they piled a few things on the door, that they weren’t willing to leave behind, jewelry and photo albums.  He put the four-year-old on his shoulders, and the one-year-old on the door, and he and his wife and kids went walking down the highway to get out of New Orleans, floating the door along, with their two girls.  “My little girl’s six now, and she still won’t take a bath,” he said.  “She too scared of water.  My sister been giving her sponge baths.  She live with my sister now.”

And I said, “Not with your wife?”

And he said, “My wife died last year.”

And that is my worst Katrina story.  Not because it’s the worst story out there (not even close), but I just wasn’t expecting him to say that his wife died.  They went through all that and she died anyway.  I felt exactly like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I couldn’t say anything to him for almost a whole minute, and I cried on the way home.

Life As We Knew It is good, but it was way upsetting, and it was the kind of upsetting that I couldn’t stop reading it.  This happened to me once before, with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.  I read it on a car trip, ages ago, and I hated it and I couldn’t stop reading it, and finally I abandoned it on a park bench at the rest stop on the Louisiana border.  If I could have abandoned Life As We Knew It on a park bench at a rest stop, I’d have done that; but it’s a library book so I finished it.  God, it was so unrelentingly bleak and frightening

Well, this is officially the most melodramatic book review I have ever written.  Here are some other, less dramatic reviews, and I am glad that I am not the only person this book scared the crap out of (yeah, I ended that sentence with two prepositions):

Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot
an adventure in reading
Tara at Books and Cooks
Bart’s Bookshelf
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
1 More Chapter
Book Addiction
Books on the Brain
Presenting Lenore
bookshelves of doom
Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?
Book Nut
Retro Review
Book Dweeb
Stephanie’s Confessions of a Bookaholic
The Reading Zone
Becky’s Book Reviews
Karin’s Book Nook
The Written World
Mixtures Books
Bonnie’s Books
The Ya Ya Yas
Frenetic Reader
Bookfoolery and Babble
The Book Muncher
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Tiny Little Reading Room
Reading Rants
The Story Siren
Life and Times of a New New Yorker
Suey’s Books
The Sleepy Reader
It’s All About Me
Laurel’s YA Book Reviews
Unmainstream Mom Reads
Sadie Jean
Experiments in Reading
Liv’s Book Reviews
Charlotte’s Library
Thoughts of Joy
Just One More Page

Phew.  Let me know if I missed yours!

How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff

I will preface this by saying that I liked this book a lot.  However, due to that habit I have of forming expectations when I read about things, it was also not at all what I thought it was going to be.  Because I forgot about the whole second half of Nymeth’s review or something, but the only thing that stuck with me was a girl goes off to live with her cousins (there is really no phrase I find more appealing in a book synopsis than goes off to live with) and I had a vague sense that they also frolic around in the country and ignore the war.  Which yes, that is exactly what happens, but then they get discovered, because even in slightly-future English countryside it isn’t easy for a bunch of kids to live by themselves and not have anyone interfere; and then a number of very unpleasant things happens.

So my plot synopsis, revised from the plot synopsis I had in my head when I got the book out of the library, is as follows: A dysfunctional fifteen-year-old girl called Daisy goes off to live with her slightly-telepathic and insane cousins in slightly-future England, and this is fun for them all until the war they have been ignoring becomes unignorable, and Daisy has to grow up and be tough and fend for herself.  Also she has a slightly-incestuous relationship with her cousin.

(Amazon felt angry about the underage sex and slightly-incest plotline.  However, since they are both very young, and this is a weird-ass family, I don’t care about that; and after the year and a half I spent listening to that awful song and making electrocution jokes about the whole Jonathan & Tammy plotline on Guiding Light, I have had every ounce of anti-cousin-sex prejudice mashed out of my brain.  I think there may be a touch of unhealthy dependence on each other, but on the other hand, Daisy handles being on her own just fine.  Unlike some unhealthily dependent heroines I could mention.)

I think that unsettling is an excellent quality for a book to have.  I seem to have only ever used that particular adjective in reference to books I liked, and quite rightly.  How I Live Now possesses that quality.  I’ve never been in a war, so I of course don’t know how it would be, but I think the way that Daisy talks about the war is exactly how it would be for a bunch of teenagers living without any parents.  She says this, which I think is perfect:

The first thing that happened wasn’t our fault.  That was a bomb that went off in the middle of a big train station in London the day after Aunt Penn went to Oslo and something like seven or seventy thousand people got killed.

Seven or seventy thousand.  Excellent.

The vagueness of the war is fantastic – though I’m inclined to think the vaguer the better in general, since I hate war and I can’t read war books because they make me sick to my stomach (a reason that I will not be buying this book myself).  The closest Daisy gets to talking about specifics is when she’s referring to The Enemy.  She spends a lot of time talking about how it’s nearly impossible to tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, since they all seem to be doing the exact same things.

On the downside, I thought the cousins were a bit too-too.  Daisy was such a strong, solid character, and easy to identify with, and it was obvious why she adored them, because she belonged with them in a way she didn’t at home.  That worked really well.  But the cousins were so airy-fairy that I couldn’t invest that much in her relationships with them (probably another reason I wasn’t fussed about the underage incest).

I have to stop staying up late reading!  Sleep is important too!  But thanks to Nymeth for the recommendation.  I cleverly have what I thought was Meg Rosoff’s only other book, Just in Case, out from the library too; though it turns out (hurrah!) it’s one of two other books by her.  Yay.