Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Bibliographic Citation:
Pfeffer, Susan Beth. (2006). Life As We Knew It. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780152061548.

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Plot Summary:
Miranda is sixteen-years-old when her life and the rest of the world get turned upside down after a the moon’s orbit is changed by a meteor collision. The planet is plagued by natural disasters and you can never be too careful with your food or your neighbors. This book chronicles Miranda’s family’s experiences as they hope for the best and prepare for the worst, not knowing what the future holds or if there is even a future at all.

Critical Analysis:
Life As We Knew It is a dystopian society novel written in the form of Miranda’s diary. Miranda, the protagonist, is a very identifiable character. She is your average run of the mill teenager, and her family is a typical group. Her parents are divorced, she fights with her mom, she thinks that her mom chooses favorites with her children, she dreams about having a boyfriend, and fantasizes about prom. Aside from the end of the world looming, many young girls can see themselves in her shoes.

Perhaps this novel’s most endearing quality is that it requires almost no energy to absorb yourself in the story and with the characters. I would describe this book as escape literature because you don’t have to think and you don’t learn anything to enjoy this book. Perhaps, it is almost better if you don’t think because too much thought might spoil the simplicity and point out some flaws in the storyline. Additionally, investing too much intellectual energy might make the tone or the not-so-subtle judgement and preachiness of some aspects too hard to handle. Some readers may be turned off to Miranda’s mother’s political viewpoints or Miranda’s scrutiny of the religious community. I found these details to aid in the book’s attempts at realism, but some might consider it little didactic with a message that detracts from the storyline.

It has been suggested that “young readers deserve books with happy endings” (Nielson et al. 120) and that their books need to have a sense of hope.  Life As Knew It definitely fits that bill. My biggest issue with this novel is that it didn’t go far enough. Pfeffer was too cautious, she was writing Life As We Knew It as a fairy tale with a post-apocalyptic backdrop. But perhaps that is what you want from a book for young adults. Miranda’s life is full of drama and it isn’t just because the world seems to be ending. There is a romance, and there are friendships, and in the end her life doesn’t seem all that bad. What more could you want when life as you knew it is over?

References:
Nielsen, A., Blasingame, J., Donelson, K., and Nilsen, D. (2012) Literature for Today’s Young Adults. (Ninth Edition). New York: Pearson.

 

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Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Bibliographic Citation:
O’Brien, Robert C. (1987). Z for Zachariah. New York, NY: Simon Pulse. ISBN 9780020446507, 249p.

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Plot Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Ann Burden is living in the aftermath of a nuclear war and as far as she knows, she’s alone. One day she sees someone approaching in the distance and begins fantasizing about who it could be and what it could mean for the future. She meets Mr. Loomis, a scientist, who has survived the fallout. He arrives in special suit that protects the wearer from radiation exposure. Her fantasies quickly fade when Mr. Loomis’s true personality and will become more apparent and she is faced with a new, harsh reality.

Critical Analysis:
Typical of YA novels, Z for Zachariah is both fast-paced and written as a first person narrative. While the pace at which the novel progresses is undoubtedly a strength, the narrator’s point of view  is both a strength and a weakness in this novel. By having Ann tell the story from the point of view of her journal entries, the reader really gets to know her, can feel a connection with her, and can identify with her as a strong, dynamic female character with an unusual coming of age story. Since Ann is not an all knowing narrator the reader misses out on the thoughts and viewpoints of Mr. Loomis. However, it can be argued that the omniscient narration is ideal because the point of view of Mr. Loomis may not have enhanced the story. While this type of extreme isolation is something that the reader has most likely not experienced, Ann is a character that reader can empathize with as she tries to imagine what she would do if this happened in her life.

Another part of the story that can be seen both as a strength and a weakness is the open ending. When describing this book to someone else, I said that it ended in a way that the author could’ve followed up with a sequel but didn’t really need to do so. In the end Ann is going a new direction; she formulated a plan and is now executing it, but her journey could take her anywhere. Some readers enjoy a sense of finality to a story, while others like to fill in the blanks themselves. Will Ann find life outside of the valley? Will Ann happen upon the deadness and like too many others before her, perish?