Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Cover of Life As We Knew It

Captain’s Log:

Module 8

Port of Call: Pfeffer, S.B. (2006). Life as we knew it. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc.

First Lines: May 7

Lisa is pregnant.

Dad called around 11 o’clock to let us know. Only Mom had already taken Jonny to his baseball practice and of course Matt isn’t home from college yet, so I was alone to get the big news.

Summary: Miranda is a teenage girl living in Pennsylvania. Her life revolves around her friends and social life – her friend Megan is becoming increasingly religiously fundamentalist while her other friend Samantha is falling into a promiscious lifestyle. Miranda also is an avid fan of Brandon Erlich, a local figure skater increasing in fame, and who inspires her to want to ice skate. In the midst of this busy, teenage life, Miranda pays little attention to the news about the asteroid about to hit the moon. Everybody expects the asteroid hit to be a minor occurrance, but instead it knocks the moon into a new orbit and sets off a chain of events that effect the entire world: tidal tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, volcanic ash that creates an early winter and power grid failures send Miranda’s family into survival mode. Living off of canned food and the firewood they were able to gather, Life As We Knew It is a gripping story that makes you think about what could happen if our world was effected by a cataclysmic disaster.

First Impressions: From the moment I read the description of this book I was interested, as this sort of survival/post-apocalyptic sci-fi is one of my favorite genres. I was unable to put this book down and read it in a single day while travelling across the country by airplane. This book made me want to go and stack up on canned goods.

Suggestions for use: This book could prompt great discussion about natural disasters and survival, or as a unit on the effects of the moon or natural events on climate change. Of course, this book was compelling enough that I think many readers will pick it up just for fun.

Reviews:

BookList:

“/*Starred Review*/ A meteor is going to hit the moon, and 16-year-old Miranda, like the rest of her family and neighbors in rural Pennsylvania, intends to watch it from the comfort of a lawn chair in her yard. But the event is not the benign impact predicted. The moon is knocked closer to Earth, setting off a chain of horrific occurrences: tsunamis, earthquakes, and, later, volcanic eruptions that disrupt life across the planet. Written in the form of Mirandas diary, this disquieting and involving story depicts one familys struggle to survive in a world where food, warmth, and well-being disappear in the blink of an eye. As life goes from bad to worse, Miranda struggles to find a way to survive both mentally and physically, discovering strength in her family members and herself. This novel will inevitably be compared to Meg Rosoffs Printz Award Book, How I Live Now (2004). Pfeffer doesn’t write with Rosoff’s startling eloquence, and her setup is not as smooth (Why don’t scientists predict the possibility of this outcome?). But Miranda and her family are much more familiar than Rosoff’s characters, and readers will respond to the authenticity and immediacy of their plight. Each page is filled with events both wearying and terrifying and infused with honest emotions. Pfeffer brings cataclysmic tragedy very close.”

Cooper, I. (2006). Life as we knew it. BookList, 103(1), 127.

School Library Journal:

“Gr 6-8 –Pfeffer tones down the terror, but otherwise crafts a frighteningly plausible account of the local effects of a near-future worldwide catastrophe. The prospect of an asteroid hitting the Moon is just a mildly interesting news item to Pennsylvania teenager Miranda, for whom a date for the prom and the personality changes in her born-again friend, Megan, are more immediate concerns. Her priorities undergo a radical change, however, when that collision shifts the Moon into a closer orbit, causing violent earthquakes, massive tsunamis, millions of deaths, and an upsurge in volcanism. Thanks to frantic preparations by her quick-thinking mother, Miranda’s family is in better shape than many as utilities and public services break down in stages, wild storms bring extremes of temperature, and outbreaks of disease turn the hospital into a dead zone. In Miranda’s day-by-day journal entries, however, Pfeffer keeps nearly all of the death and explicit violence offstage, focusing instead on the stresses of spending months huddled in increasingly confined quarters, watching supplies dwindle, and wondering whether there will be any future to make the effort worthwhile. The author provides a glimmer of hope at the end, but readers will still be left stunned and thoughtful.”

Peters, J. (2006). Life as we knew it. School Library Journal, 52(10), 166.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Cover of Leviathan

Captain’s Log:

Module 8

Port of Call: Westerfeld, S. (2009). Leviathan. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

First Lines: The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised. Behind them stood two ranks of diesel-powered walking machines stood ready to fire, cannon aimed over the heads of the cavalry. A zeppelin scouted no-man’s-land at the center of the battlefield, its metal skin sparkling.

Summary: Alek is the son of the Archduke of Austria and is suddenly whisked out of his bed for his own safety when his parents are assassinated. Europe is thrown into turmoil on the brink of the first world war, and Alek must escape and survive until he can find allies to reclaim his birthright. He and his advisors hide from German clankers, giant war machines, while those who want him dead try to hunt him down. In the meantime, in England, Deryn Sharp has inherited her deceased father’s love of airships and decides to sneak into the British Air Service disguised as a boy. During an early training exercise she is separated from her base and is picked up by the British Darwinist ship Leviathan a giant flying whale that houses complex eco-systems all working in harmony as a deadly war airship. Her skills as an airman keep her onboard as a midshipman, and she goes with the Leviathan as it is assigned to a top secret mission to the Ottoman Empire. On the way, they encounter German forces and crash into a glacier near where Alek and his advisors are hiding. Alek makes the choice to try and help the stranded airmen and the two meet and form a friendship despite their differences and the secrets each is trying to hide.

First Impressions: I loved this book from the minute I saw the cover. I thought the alternate history to WWI was cleverly constructed and I am eagerly looking forward to the next book, Behemoth.

Suggestions for use: This book is a great inroduction into sci-fi and steampunk, so I can see using this book to introduce teenagers to these genres. I think this book has greater significance if the reader has some knowledge of WWI. This might even be a great companion story for students studying this period of history.

Reviews:

School Library Journal:

“/* Starred Review */ Gr 7 Up— This is World War I as never seen before. The story begins the same: on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated, triggering a sequence of alliances that plunges the world into war. But that is where the similarity ends. This global conflict is between the Clankers, who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose technology is based on the development of new species. After the assassination of his parents, Prince Aleksandar’s people turn on him. Accompanied by a small group of loyal servants, the young Clanker flees Austria in a Cyklop Stormwalker, a war machine that walks on two legs. Meanwhile, as Deryn Sharp trains to be an airman with the British Air Service, she prays that no one will discover that she is a girl. She serves on the Leviathan, a massive biological airship that resembles an enormous flying whale and functions as a self-contained ecosystem. When it crashes in Switzerland, the two teens cross paths, and suddenly the line between enemy and ally is no longer clearly defined. The ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, and that’s a good thing because readers will be begging for more. Enhanced by Thompson’s intricate black-and-white illustrations, Westerfeld’s brilliantly constructed imaginary world will capture readers from the first page. Full of nonstop action, this steampunk adventure is sure to become a classic.”

Campbell, H.M. (2009). Leviathan. School Library Journal, 55(9), 176.

Publishers Weekly:
“/* Starred Review */ Launching a planned four-book series, Westerfeld (the Uglies series) explores an alternate 1914 divided between Darwinists, who advocate advanced biotechnology, and Clankers, masters of retrofuturistic mechanical engineering. Austria-Hungary’s Prince Aleksandar is whisked away into the night by trusted advisers; he soon learns that his parents, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie, have been murdered and that he has been targeted by prowar Germans. Half a continent away, Deryn Sharp successfully passes as a young man to join the British Air Service; her bravery during a catastrophic first flight aboard a genetically enhanced jellyfish (“The creatures’ fishy guts could survive almost any fall, but their human passengers were rarely so lucky”) earns Deryn a post on the living airship Leviathan . The fortunes of war lead Aleksandar and Deryn to the Swiss Alps, where they must cooperate or face destruction at the hands of the Germans. The protagonists’ stories are equally gripping and keep the story moving, and Thompson’s detail-rich panels bring Westerfeld’s unusual creations to life. The author’s fully realized world has an inventive lexicon to match—readers will be eager for the sequels. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)”
Staff. (2009). Leviathan. Publisher’s Weekly, 256(34), 62.