Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008. 308 pp. 978-0-547-25855-3.

... in which we see the events from Life As We Knew It from the perspective of a group of teenagers in New York City.

The Dead and the Gone is a companion novel to Life As We Knew It, meaning that it's not strictly necessary to read one before the other. However, the explanation of the moon's movement is more clearly described in LAWKT, so I'd still recommend reading that first. It's the second book in the trilogy sometimes called The Last Survivors Trilogy, and sometimes called the Moon Crash trilogy. I prefer Moon Crash, but Amazon goes with The Last Survivors, so that's what I'll use.

Instead of being told in diary format, The Dead and the Gone is written in third person format from the perspective of 17-year-old Alex Morales. Alex lives in New York City with his parents and two younger sisters. The Puerto Rican family is devoutly Catholic, and it's this faith that holds them together. When the moon moved closer to the Earth, the family was scattered and unable to reach each other. Alex's father was in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by the tsunamis. Alex's mother was called in to work at a hospital, but never returned home. Alex's older brother was a Marine stationed in California, leaving Alex as the head of the family and responsible for caring for his 14- and 12-year-old sisters, Briana and Julie.

Unlike Miranda's family in semi-rural Pennsylvania, the Morales family watches events unfold in a large city setting. Being in a large city has its perks... more government food handouts, more people to turn to for help, but it also has its drawbacks... more gangs, more crime, and eventually, more corpses. As he fights for his family's survival, Alex is forced to do things he didn't think he would ever do.

Alex's story is grittier than Miranda's, if only for the fact that Alex is alone without parents in a large city. The rich and well-connected people flee the city, leaving behind the desperate, less wealthy people. Alex and his sisters manage to stay better fed than Miranda's family, through government handouts, church assistance, and Alex's ingenuity on the streets. Through the struggle to survive, however, Alex and his youngest sister Julie begin to slowly drift away from their Catholic ideals. They steal from the vacant apartments of their neighbors, and Alex steals from the fresh corpses that line the street. Slowly, Alex begins to lose his faith, bit by bit.

The only religion in Life As We Knew It was seen through the eyes of the non-religious Miranda, and it was an example of religious extremism at its worse. The religion in The Dead and the Gone, however, is quite a bit different. Unlike the church that Miranda knows, the Catholic Church in New York City feeds its congregation as much as it can, and makes every possible attempt to keep its schools open and to reunite separated families. Alex's crisis of faith is approached from a completely different angle, one that feels more genuine than the angle used in the previous book.

Perhaps because it wasn't written in diary format, I had a harder time connecting with Alex. It could also be that the cast of characters was much larger, and Alex had a lot more resting on his shoulders. I have an easier time connecting with a girl who's helping her mother, rather than a boy who is essentially the only parent his sisters have left. Although Alex's situation is grimmer than Miranda's, I felt Miranda's dread and despair more than I feel Alex's. Despite this, I think Alex's story is a little more compelling than Miranda's. Miranda had only the interaction with her mothers and brothers while they were essentially confined to a single room; Alex has interaction with his family, friends, and various other connections.

I like the fact that Pfeffer put us in a completely different setting for this book. The similarities and differences between Miranda's situation and Alex's situation make for really interesting reading, though I'd still recommend reading Life As We Knew It first.

4/5 stars

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