Recommended Reading: “This World We Live In” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This book is a fun read, even if most of the plot is spoiled in the book-jacket summary.  The details are left out, and it is these details that make the story interesting.

All Three Books in the Trilogy ('This World We Live In') is on the far right by the cat

Susan Beth Pfeffer’s This World We Live In is the third book in her trilogy about a meteor pushing the moon closer to Earth.  First point — this book is not scientific.  It is not realistic — the whole point of the trilogy is to explore what happens to people in a near-apocalyptic catastrophe.  Second point — this book may be the third of a trilogy, but I read it first and enjoyed it a lot.  All of the characters are reintroduced in a way that seems plausible and the plot is reiterated realistically.  I would actually recommend reading this novel on its own first because fan reviews online were negative.  They complained that there had not been enough character growth or too much, etc.  By reading this book first, the first two installments felt like prequels, and in my opinion, this made them much more enjoyable.

The other two books in this trilogy are Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone.  Naturally, because this book is a sequel to these two, this post will contain plot spoilers for them.  If, however, you like reading about characters, details, and points to ponder, don’t worry, I will try not to spoil these too much!

Both of the first two books detail the same catastrophe from two different viewpoints in different settings: a meteor crashes into the moon and pushes the moon closer to Earth, thus disrupting the tides, weather, tectonic plates, etc.  Food shortages, natural disasters, and more change the lives of everyone on Earth forever.  The first book is written in diary-style and is purportedly by Miranda Evans, who is 15/16 and lives in the town of Howell, Pennsylvania.  The second book is written in the third-person limited (like Harry Potter) and stars Alex Morales, who is 16/17 and lives in New York City.  [The author states on her blog that she just couldn’t fathom a modern teenage boy keeping a diary, so she didn’t write the book that way.]

Well, This World We Live In picks up a year after the disaster, and is once again written as Miranda’s diary.  Because of this, we only get her point of view for the entire story, and I think a lot of the flaws that reviewers point out have something to do with this.  Anything written in the first-person suffers from an unreliable narrator.  Miranda is a whiny young woman and very believable.  Unfortunately, she also finds just about every other character to be annoying at times, and some of the characters she downright despises.  Unsurprisingly, this makes them fall flat as characters, but from my perspective, the fact that they are so one-sided is more realistic.  Miranda is writing in her diary, not writing a novel.  As an adult, I wish I could understand the motivations of the other characters, but Pfeffer did not choose to write a third-person omniscient narrative.

Also not surprisingly given the set-up, Alex shows up at Miranda’s house and is probably the second-most important character in the story, but because he is only presented through Miranda’s eyes, we don’t understand him very well.  If I had been writing this book as a conclusion to a trilogy, I would have alternated the chapters between both points of view, because the Alex I met in The Dead and the Gone was much more interesting and complex.  Moving on, however, the two characters fall in love, and another criticism is how quickly they do.  Once again, this book is a diary.  Miranda does not write in it every day, nor does she write everything down.  This is also the post-apocalyptic genre and these characters are teens.

What did surprise me about this novel is its spirituality.  I really like when books (especially those designed for teens) treat religion with respect and include it in the stories.  There is a lot of religious imagery and most of the characters are religious, but the book itself is not preachy.  Miranda herself is not religious and this figures into her relationship with Alex, as well as with most of the other characters.  Since this disaster is apocalyptic, naturally questions about God arise.  I think Pfeffer handles them very well while still keeping them organically woven into the story.  She also has a very comical scene: there is a group of eleven people in the Evans’ farmhouse, and on Sunday, they split into two groups for church services — one in the living room, one in the sun room, while non-religious Miranda and her mother decide that it is the perfect time to clean the house!  [I burst out laughing at how Pfeffer/Miranda describes it, but obviously I can’t do the justice here.]

Anyhow, I strongly recommend this novel and the trilogy in general.  It is enjoyable, not a difficult read, and suspenseful despite the predictability of the plot.  I really wanted to learn more about the characters.  The author says that it is done, but I hope she changes her mind.

Here is the author’s blog: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com/.  She also has lots of tips for young writers (she has written 77 books, apparently!).  Her cat also features very prominently on the page!

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One Response to Recommended Reading: “This World We Live In” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

  1. Pingback: Teen Dystopias and Disasters: Susan Beth Pfeffer’s “The Dead and the Gone” and more | Katy by the Fireplace

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