Saturday, November 6, 2010

This World We Live In, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This World We Live In, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. 239 pp. 978-0-547-24804-2.

... the conclusion of Miranda and Alex's stories, and the conclusion of The Last Survivors Trilogy.

At 239 pp, This World We Live In is a much shorter read than either Miranda's or Alex's initial entries into the trilogy. Picking up about a month after the end of Life As We Knew It, and about four months after the end of The Dead and the Gone, the third book in the series brings together all of the major characters from the first two books. Going back to narration via Miranda's diary, we're once again seeing everything from her perspective in her small town in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the novel, Miranda's brothers Matt and Jon leave for a week to see if they can catch any fish. When they return, Miranda's older brother Matt brings with him a woman that he introduces as Syl, his wife. This adds more strain onto the already precarious food situation that the Evans family faces. On top of that, a few weeks later Miranda's father returns to town, bringing with him his wife Lisa, their newborn son Gabriel, their friend Charlie, and Alex and Julie.

This is by far and away the weakest book in the trilogy. First of all, it's never really clear how Alex and Julie happened to join up with Miranda's father. Secondly, nothing really happens until the very end, except for people getting short with each other over the lack of resources. I guess the first two books showed the strength of human endurance, love and altruism, as all of the major characters in the first two books made large sacrifices for the well-being of their loved ones. Perhaps this love and altruism is starting to wear thin, because by the first anniversary of the moon disaster, people sure are showing their worst sides. Matt, the previously strong and capable heroic older brother, becomes selfish and petty. Miranda's mom, previously generous and loving, becomes miserly with their resources and turns into a reclusive shut-in. Miranda shows her age as a 17-year-old girl who's in way over her head. Alex is obsessed with sending Julie to a nunnery, despite the fact that everyone else sees that that's an awful idea. Despite the explanations offered throughout the whole book, Alex's reasoning never really makes sense to me. Maybe that was the point?

By the end of the book, I pretty much wanted Matt to go away and never return, and I didn't really care what happened to Dad and Lisa, except that I knew that I never wanted to read about another of their prayer circles. Perhaps Alex's religion felt more genuine to me, because it's a really central part of who he is, but the prayers of Miranda's father and Lisa seemed kind of fake and desperate.

I also found it a little implausible how quickly Miranda and Alex fall in love. (This does not count as a spoiler, because they're a boy and girl of the same age and this is teen fiction, after all) I guess that in this new world, you live hard and you live fast, and you take whatever chances you can get. It probably doesn't hurt that this is the first non-relative boy her age that Miranda has seen in over a year.

The book flap says that after "a devastating tornado hits the town", then "Miranda makes a decision that will change their lives forever". Despite the fact that it's implied that this tornado is a major event, it doesn't actually happen until pg 212 of 239. The major decision that Miranda makes probably didn't change anyone's life but her own, as the consequences of the decision would have come about regardless of whether Miranda had intervened. So basically, the first 212 pages of this book are just filled with people milling around arguing about food, and the last 27 pages just feel forced and contrived. I can't help but feel like Pfeffer just wanted to be over and done with this trilogy, because the pacing is really off, the plot is contrived and lame, and the characters just aren't all there. The addition of the totally pointless characters of Syl and Charlie take something away from the book too, as they draw the reader's attention away from the people we really care about, namely, Miranda and Alex.

I will say a few things in praise of this book. Bravo to Pfeffer for having the guts to definitively END a successful and probably fairly lucrative teen/young adult series, and to actually show that some journeys don't end with "all was well". There are always consequences, and happy endings aren't the only way to end young adult fiction. Most teens can handle something other than a shiny happy ending, and if they can't handle grittier stories, then I'm astonished they made it to book three of this trilogy. Anyway, it's been refreshing seeing a teen fiction trilogy that doesn't pull its punches, despite the fact that the ending disappointed me.

I would still recommend reading the first two books in the trilogy, but unless you're really desperate to find out what happens after those books, I'd skip this. If you really do want to read it, it's a super fast read (took me less than two hours).

2/5 stars

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