Review Blog

Aug 25 2009

The dead and the gone

cover image

Pfeffer, Susan. Marion Lloyd Books, 2008. ISBN 9781407106229.
(Age 13+) A companion novel to Life as we knew it, this novel can be read as a stand-alone. A meteor has struck the moon, changing the earth's climate drastically and bringing disastrous tsunamis and flooding.This is the compelling story of what it is like to survive in New York where the tube stations have been flooded, shops looted and the Yankee Stadium filled with the bodies of the dead. Alex Morales and his two young sisters, Briana and Julie, find themselves alone in the city. Their father had been in Puerto Rico for a funeral when the disaster struck and their mother called away to help in a hospital. Nothing has been heard of either of them since the first early reports of the tragedy. Alex, who has come from a strict Catholic family, is left to look after his two sisters without the support of any adults.
While the protagonists face many of the same disasters, intermittent electricity, food shortages, grey dust and a flu epidemic, the urban setting brings a different set of problems to be faced.  The Church gives some spiritual and physical support like lunch at the schools, but it is Alex who takes on the difficult role of head of the household and keeps his family together.
This is a survival story, but highlights the plight of the poor. Although Alex is very bright and a leader at school, it is the boys who have rich and influential families who are able to leave the devastated city. Alex and Julie queue up for food in dangerous lines, the girls can't walk around unprotected and it is difficult to see how they can survive. Alex faces the moral dilemma of stealing from the dead to keep the family alive. The reader sees the young siblings grow from self-centred adolescents to brave and caring young adults. Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the story is the author's exploration of faith in testing times.
This is a compelling read. While it didn't grab me as powerfully as Life as we knew it, probably because I was prepared for the effects of the disaster, the themes that are explored, including religion, morality, class structure and family, are certainly thought provoking.
Pat Pledger
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