A few weeks ago, YA author Susan Beth Pfeffer hosted a giveaway on her blog for ARCs of her soon-to-be-released The Shade of the Moon, the fourth book in the Life As We Knew It series. The books tell the stories of several families dealing with the aftermath of a asteroid hitting the moon and knocking it closer to Earth. The first and third books, Life As We Knew It and This World We Live In, are written as the diary entries of Miranda Evans, a teenager living in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. The second book, The Dead and the Gone, is a companion to the first book that follows devoutly religious Alex Morales in New York City as he experiences the same events. The asteroid hitting the moon proves to be catastrophic. The event leads to tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes, and a steep drop in temperature. There is illness, starvation, and desperation in the post-apocalyptic world.
Unfortunately, I did not get an e-mail saying I won a copy of the book in the giveaway. I was disappointed, but I figured August isn’t too far away. But! Not all was lost! One of my coworkers had also entered, and she did win a copy. I waited patiently (or not so patiently) until she and her son finished reading it, then she very kindly passed it on to me.
Before I begin my review, a disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of The Shade of the Moon that was borrowed from someone who won it from the author. I am writing this review because of a personal goal I set for myself to read more, review more, and blog more. Also, this is an honest review. I tend to be a little harsh with YA fiction because I am constantly finding so many problematic elements. I did have some issues with this book, but overall I enjoyed reading it.
There will be major plot spoilers for all four books from this point on! I will try to not give away too much about the fourth book, but small plot points will be discussed.
I really love the idea that Susan Beth Pfeffer has explored with her novels. One big problem that I have with a lot of post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature (especially YA) is that I often find myself asking, “But why?” I can never quite suspend my disbelief long enough to accept that the chain events the author gives could feasibly cause the plot of the novel. With the Life as We Knew It series, I could really buy that an asteroid hitting the moon could cause some serious issues. I could imagine the tides getting messed up (along with all of the other natural disasters), and I could see the reasonable ensuing panic.
In the first book, we are introduced to Miranda Evans and her mother, older brother Matt, younger brother Jonny, neighbor Mrs. Nesbitt, and other minor characters. We know that she has a father and a pregnant stepmother. The family struggles in the aftermath of the moon disaster, but through her diary entries we see them survive. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads because despite the fact that I am not too terribly fond of diary/first-person POV novels, I fell in love with the idea and I enjoyed reading it.
The Dead and the Gone is set in the same timeline as Life As We Knew It, only in New York City instead of Pennsylvania. We meet highly religious Alex Morales and his younger sisters Briana (who is the most pious of them all) and Julie (who is a bit of a spitfire). Unlike the first novel, there are no parents to help the situation. Alex, who has taken a traditionally male role in the family, struggles to adjust to daily chores such as cooking and bigger tasks like keeping his sisters alive and scouring fields of dead bodies to see if his mother is one of them. By the end, he and Julie are able to procure tickets to get into a community that can help them survive. Briana dies (and I must say that while it seemed obvious afterwards, I did not see that death coming!) My Goodreads rating for this book was 3 stars. I still loved the idea and the execution was good, but most of the characters annoyed me to the point that the book was slightly less enjoyable.
This brings us to the third book, This World We Live In. Unfortunately, this book was my least favorite. We are back to Miranda’s diary, and we see soon enough that her father, stepmother, and half-sibling arrive with three strangers in tow. Two of those strangers just happen to be Alex and Julie from the second book. Her older brother Matt sets out and returns with a wife, Syl. This growing group of people are trying to survive on dwindling supplies and food. Since it is the end of the world, it is only natural that the teenagers pair off in romantic couples (Miranda with Alex and Jon with Julie). I prefer my books without piles of sappy romance, so that aspect of the novel – while understandable and believable – was not my favorite. I was also quite upset about the cat and Julie. Miranda wrote about how furious she was that her sister-in-law Syl humanely killed their family cat, yet Miranda herself humanely killed Julie after she was terribly injured. She was so angry at Syl because she felt that Syl was not part of the family and did not have the right to do so. If that is the case, why in the world did she think she had the right to kill her boyfriend’s sister?! This book was a 2.5 star book for me, but I rounded it up to 3 on Goodreads since we can’t do half stars.
Since I wasn’t incredibly fond of the third book, I was not sure how I would like the fourth one. It was an unexpected – though not unwelcome – surprise to see that there was going to be a fourth; I thought she was finished after three. I was intrigued to see where these characters could possibly go from the end of the third book.
Susan Beth Pfeffer posted the first twelve pages on her blog. You can find them here. The first few pages of the book tell us that Miranda’s brother Jon lives with his stepmother and half-brother. His dad died on the way to the enclave where they currently live. They got in using the passes that Alex procured in The Dead and the Gone. This series has slowly moved from the post-apocalypse to a new, dystopian society that was created to deal with the fallout from the moon incident.
This society includes two main groups of people, the clavers and the grubs. Grubs do manual labor and live in subpar housing. Clavers are the upper class, living in houses with proper air filtration and eating the best food available. Jon feels a lot of guilt over the death of Julie, not realizing that Miranda was the one who ended her life. As a claver in his enclave, he has grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle – one that includes plenty of food and domestics to do the cooking, cleaning, and babysitting. His mother, along with a pregnant Miranda and her husband Alex, live in the nearby grub town and work as a teacher, greenhouse employee, and bus driver.
I don’t want to give away many major plot points or spoilers, but suffice to say things get ugly fast. The clavers feel some sort of entitlement over the grubs, and it leads to loads of drama and, of course, some tragedy. The way society naturally devolved into two main groups, the haves and the have-nots, illustrates a pretty typical dystopian element that really works well in this instance. It was hard to digest at points, but I believed it could really happen. I believe that it is entirely plausible that certain people would feel that entitled to the finer things in life while the rest, the majority, struggle to exist. I mean, it is basically a more intense imagining of something that is already happening to a degree.
One thing I must note, though: I hate Jon. Really. He is completely selfish and obnoxious and just awful. I appreciate that he went through some character growth throughout the novel, but I still thought he had loads of maturing to do at the end. The way he treated people (especially how he described his nights in the grub town ‘taking’ any girls he could) was pretty gross. Even with my hatred of the main character, I still enjoyed the story. I would have liked to see more uprising from the grubs, though. These are not stupid people – many of the grubs in the book were highly educated people who just happened to be in a profession before the moon disaster that was not productive in the aftermath. With all of those educated people, surely they could stage an uprising and use their smarts to their benefit? The one huge showdown between the clavers and the grubs in the book did not end well for the grubs. I know they have a lot going against them, but it would be great to see them really fight against these new societal classes.
Overall, I really liked The Shade of the Moon. The things that were meant to disgust me disgusted me, and the book kept my attention the entire way through (something that is surprisingly commendable thanks to my absurdly short attention span). I am glad that we got to see what became of the rest of Jon’s family. There was a healthy dose of action, drama, and heartbreak. There was one scene in particular that broke my little stone heart. I also like that it was open-ended enough that Susan Beth Pfeffer could always write another book in the series.
I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. Contrary to popular belief, I am not a literature snob. I do love my F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Orwell, but I also see the value in a solid idea and execution in general fiction and YA. And that is exactly what the Life As We Knew It series is – a solid, enjoyable read.