Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Review: This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The third book in Susan Beth Pfeffer's series of young adult post-disaster novels, This World We Live In attempts the daunting task of bringing together characters from the previous books (Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone). At that task, it succeeds with flying colors and provides another character-driven novel in world gone horribly wrong. Miranda and her family have survived the worst after the moon was knocked into a closer orbit around the Earth by a meteor, but they're not out of the woods yet. Food is scarce, electricity is on-again-off-again at random, and the sudden arrival of Miranda's father and stepmother, and a few unexpected guests, is making things more difficult. But with these new guests is Alex Morales (The Dead and the Gone), and soon Miranda and Alex find themselves in conflict with their growing feelings for one another and the harsh reality that is their future in a world brought to its knees by nature. Much like Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In captures the essence of family in all the right ways. Miranda's family is an amalgam of the kinds of families we see in the world today (here in the West, anyway): we have the divorced parents, the stepmother, the turmoil between brothers and a daughter in a world no longer founded upon the same equal opportunity we take for granted today, the injection of other people into the social stratum of the family unit (much as friends become members of the family, even though they aren't). Pfeffer continues to make family, social structures, and character the central focus of her novel, despite being set in an future where one could have a heyday with action and violence. Her characters are (still) flawed, and yet lovable regardless. We might not like the way they all act from time to time, but throughout the narrative (and the series as a whole) we come to understand how humanity often needs copious amounts of time to properly adjust to a catastrophic event. In a way, I can't help seeing the analogy between the Great Depression and Pfeffer's out-of-place-moon future, where mankind is thrust into awful situations where even those who were moderately fortunate before are forced to change against strict, horrible social/cultural/physical pressures. Perhaps that is what makes This World We Live In, and the previous two novels, engaging and real. It's not Doomsday or I Am Legend, but an unintentional response to that kind of action-focused post-disaster genre--a response that seems to work without becoming preachy or too geared towards a particular gender or age group (even though it is a young adult novel). It would be pointless to sit here repeating what I have already said about this series. This World We Live In is as much a thrill to read as the previous two novels, and much of the praise I have for this latest edition can be found in those previous reviews (here and here). The epistolary format continues to work surprisingly well, the characters are surprisingly human (they irritate, they amuse, and they make good and bad decisions), and the ambiguity of the ending is both a warm, if not morbid, moment, and a reminder of our fragility as a species. Hopefully Pfeffer will show us more of this world, either through the eyes of her previously established characters, or via the introduction of new characters from entirely different situations (it would be interesting, for example, to see how the richest people of the world are coping with the "end of the world"). We'll see. The only recommendation I have for anyone interested in this novel (besides the obvious suggestion of picking it up and reading it) is not to read the back cover. This may be isolated to the uncorrected proof I received for review, but the synopsis on the back cover of my edition essentially gives away the ending. Don't read it. If you want to learn more about This World We Live In, head on over to Harcourt. The novel is due for release in April on Amazon or anywhere you buy books. Susan Beth Pfeffer can be found on her blog.

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