Monday, January 9, 2012

This World We Live In

Although Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of about sixty books for children of all ages, I only discovered her work recently, as I browsed the new book selections at my local library. That was fortunate, because I like extreme settings.

This World We Live In is an apocalyptic YA novel, the last in a popular series by Pfeffer, where characters struggle to stay alive, pushed to do things that under ordinary situations they would never do. I am eager to read the first two books of the series, Life as We Knew It, and, The Dead and the Gone, though it's not necessary to read them in order.

The review I cited above with the book title reviews the main conflicts: A year before the novel begins, the moon has been bumped closer to Earth by a meteor. Strong gravitational gravitational forces have caused tornadoes, and hurricanes. Volcanoes have spewed so much ash that the sun barely penetrates the Earth's atmosphere. Earth is a cold and dark place where nothing grows and people are starving. Decomposing bodies lie in piles or in abandoned houses everywhere. Hospitals and schools are gone.

Miranda is the main character, a teen who is smart and determined. But what interested to me, was she still was placed in some of the same circumstances contemporary teens are in contemporary novels, such her parents' divorce.

Divorce is so commonplace in YA novels and in my opinion, can be hard to write about without the usual cliches, involving the animosity between parents, the teen caught in the middle, problems with money, etc. I become aware how repetitive and boring these conflicts can be as I worked on my middle grade novel and trying to figure out what would make my story different.

But maybe it's easier to tell a fresh story about divorce in an extreme setting. What happens when Miranda's Dad appears at her and her mom's door along with Dad's new wife and infant, with all of them hungry, and the baby cold?

They have to work together in the hope that the entire community can survive. A different hierarchy of need takes over, and this gives it a fresh twist.

A human being's point of view shifts under the threat of death. The father's infant with his second wife, in contemporary America, might surely be the object of Miranda's resentment. Here the baby becomes the hope of the future, and protected by everyone, no matter what.

There are other conflicts in this story nuanced by the setting, such as when Miranda falls in love with a boy. Can one just fall in love and run off in such a world? No.  And there is an even more difficult problem: shall Miranda help euthanize a terminally injured young girl who is suffering?

A teen would ask, reading this book, "What would I do?" And really think hard about it.

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