Life As We Knew It Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Life As We Knew It

Miranda and her family must stick together and survive after a giant asteroid brings the moon closer to the Earth and wreaks havoc for mankind. Miranda lives in the United States of the near future, relatively closer to the east coast, but not on the coast. As the novel starts, she is a typical high schooler, concerned about guys and about her best friends. She and her two best friends have drifted further apart than they had been previously after the fourth in their circle died the previous fall. One in particular, Megan, has grown very religious. She still cares for both of them, though.
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When the people in Miranda's community read that an asteroid will hit the moon, everyone becomes excited. All her teachers assign something related to watching the asteroid hit. Miranda is slightly put out by the many assignments on the same topic all due at the same time. Things change drastically on the night of the asteroid, when it brings the moon closer to the earth. The moon's greater proximity causes tidal waves and tsunamis. People on the coast begin to die or, if they are lucky, evacuate. Television reception from Washington DC becomes erratic. In fact, all news becomes erratic. Electricity becomes erratic.

In Miranda's town, people begin to panic. The day after the asteroid, Miranda's mother pulls her out of school with her younger brother and they run to the store and buy as much as they can with the cash her mother has pulled out of the bank. They stock up on canned food, clothes for all seasons, pasta, some perishables, garden plants, and other supplies. This is fortunate, as the store shelves quickly become bare and are not replenished as they normally would be. As time passes, more and more stores close, and lines become longer at the remaining ones. By the time school ends, the school is having trouble providing lunch to its students. Miranda also becomes concerned with Megan, who doesn't seem to be eating and is loosing weight. Yet she will not listen to Miranda or to their other friend, Sammi.

During the summer, Miranda's mom rations their food and it becomes clear she isn't eating much. Miranda's brother Jonny is able to go to his baseball camo, and Mom sees it as a way to preserve food in addition. While he is gone, Miranda and her mother eat two meals a day only. At this time and later, however, Miranda's mother tries to save things for special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Electricity and news becomes increasingly sporadic, and Miranda's mother often has a load of laundry ready to go the moment the electricity comes on. Miranda's older brother Matt comes home from college, and it becomes increasingly evident that Peter, a doctor, is interested in Miranda's mom. (Miranda's parents are divorced.) Miranda is rather resentful that mom can have a boyfriend but doesn't want her to, as there is a boy she sometimes meets when she goes swimming in a nearby pond. Peter is nice and is sometimes able to bring food or news, however.

As the summer progresses, it comes time for Miranda to visit her father, his new wife, and their baby, but she can't go because her mother worries about burdening them - also a cause for resentment, though little she can do about it. Their town begins to grow empty as people move south in search of better times. This includes Sammi, who meets an older man who can take care of her. Miranda can't imagine doing the same, but understands that times are changing. Megan, on the other hand, wastes away despite her mother's efforts and Miranda's visits. Eventually she dies and of starvation and her mother hangs herself. Their pastor, Miranda finds out, has been accepting food from his congregation at their expense, and now will not hold a funeral for the mother because she committed suicide. Miranda is enraged.

Also during the summer, the moon's pull prompts volcanic activity which then covers the world in smoke and ash, even faraway places like Miranda's home. Her mother's garden dies, and she, Matt, and Jonny must spend less time outside. Limited food and meals takes its toll on their strength as well, and the temperature begins to drop. School begins in the fall, but with only one location for elementary, one location for middle and high school, and an option to take books home and homeschool. At first Miranda thinks she will go, but then decides to homeschool when she sees what it is like. She takes books home for Jonny, too, and their mom sets up a study schedule with them.

The temperature continues to drop throughout the fall to unheard of levels. Without reliable electricity, the family eventually stays downstairs in just two rooms that include a wood stove. (Matt spend much of the summer chopping wood.) Miranda is thankful for the long johns her mother bought the day after the asteroid, which at the time she had resented. People have started to die of starvation, and their houses are quickly raided. When their neighbor, and older lady, dies, Miranda is the first to know, and though she mourns, also goes for Matt's help and quickly takes supplies home. They also discover her well still has water - just in time, as theirs has gone dry. In town, even the library closes. Only the hospital stays open. Peter is often busy, and the work is taking its toll. Around December and January, the flu goes around - more deadly than usual with people as weak as they are. Peter dies; Miranda finds out when her family gets sick and she goes in for help. The staff are unable to send anyone, but able to give a little advice. Her family gets better under her care, though they are even weaker. For a few days they eat more to regain strength, but then go back to rations - only one meal a day at this point.

Finally, Miranda goes into town, knowing she is unlikely to return because she is so weak. She is fortunate, however. The government has set up a post to hand out bags of food. She returns with food for her family, and they have enough to survive for a while. Miranda by now has made it one year, to her seventeenth birthday.

This book is the first in a series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It is followed by the booked entitled "The Dead and the Gone."
Best part of story, including ending: This is a rather unique survival story in an apocolyptic setting, told in diary format from Miranda's perspective. The reader can see changes in her attitude and way of thinking as she understands what it important.

Best scene in story: At Christmas, Miranda gives her mother a box of chocolate from their dead neighbor's house. In a way, it is also an apology for a loss of control earlier in the book. Her mother had been saving chocolate for her brother's birthday, and Miranda, hungry as she was, did not know and ate the chocolate - but of course was caught and punished.

Opinion about the main character: Miranda is naturally frusterated with her situation as her life is gradually turned upside down. The reader can nonetheless see that Miranda changes and, in spite of her frustrations, care for and increasingly sacrifice for the others in her family.

The review of this Book prepared by Carol Lambert a Level 5 American Goldfinch scholar

Chapter Analysis of Life As We Knew It

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book Descript. of chases or violence 10%planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 30%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 30%Descript. of society, phenomena (tech), places 30% FANTASY or SCIENCE FICTION?    -   science fiction story Explore/1st contact/ enviro story    -   Yes Explore:    -   preventing/surviving an ecological disaster Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book

Main Character

Identity:    -   Female Profession/status:    -   student Age:    -   a teen


Earth setting:    -   near future (later in 21st century) Takes place on Earth?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   generic/vague references to death/punishment scientific jargon? (SF only)    -   some scientific explanation How much dialogue?    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Susan Beth Pfeffer Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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