Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Last Survivors trilogy

3.5/5 STARS

I was in various stages of non-completion of several books, including: City of Bones (which I've been trying to finish for almost a month now - something must be wrong with me but I just can't get into it!) and Sabriel (have been trying to read this once for a decade but haven't made it past the 3rd chapter yet), when I arrived at work one day and saw that a friend had left Susan Beth Pfeffer's moon trilogy on my desk. Drawn in by the yummy promise of postapocalyptic doom + teenage angst, I abandoned everything else I was reading and dove in.

Unlike some end of the world science fictiony trilogies we know of, this one actually does contain three books: Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and This World We Live In. The premise, if not groundbreakingly original, does make for a pretty nail-biting read, from the first page to the last. An asteroid hits the moon and knocks its orbit closer to earth. This might not seem completely catastrophic at first - until you remember that thing about the tides and how the moon is responsible for them. So a closer-to-earth moon = higher tides. Which means places like Florida, California, or New York City, for example, get tsunami'd out of existence within minutes.

The first book is a series of journal entries by Miranda, a 16 yr old basically normal girl who lives with her mom and two siblings in Pennsylvania. She starts writing in the diary a couple days before the asteroid situation happens, intending to use it to record typical 16 yr old type problems like when will I get a boyfriend? Why is my mom so protective - I'm practically an adult, you know! Will the 82 I got on my math test prevent me from getting into a good college? etc. Then the asteroid hits the moon, and things begin spiraling out of control. It's a slow spiral at first. Sure, there are news reports estimating casualties in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in coastal areas. Which is devastating but feels a long way off. Life goes on kind of as it did before at first...until food begins to run out, and former friends and neighbors go into survival mode and turn on each other. Bodies begin to pile up. Volcanoes erupt in places like Montreal and Nevada, pouring ash into the atmosphere so the sun can't penetrate and there is frost in August. With no electricity, oil, or gas supplies, and rumors of a horrible flu epidemic, Miranda and her family aren't sure whether hunger, cold, or sickness will kill them first.

In some ways, these books reminded me a bit of the Hunger Games. Miranda has a bit of Katniss in her - she's prickly and can be selfish and fickle. She has a dry sense of humor. She's very protective of her family. But at the core, her own emotions and happiness are what matter most to her. She did feel like a real person to me, even if not always an immensely likable one, so she gets points for that.

By the third book, things are so grim that family members are contemplating murdering each other just to put their loved ones out of their misery. That reminded me a lot of "The Hanging Tree" theme in Mockingjay. That "Hanging Tree" song was one of the most haunting parts of the book - definitely got to me more than all the blood and gore of the "pods."

But I digress. This moon trilogy is a quick read - you really can't put it down - but it's not as creative or deeply felt as The Hunger Games or Catching Fire (can't really lump Mockingjay in still so upset over it). For one thing, the 2nd "companion book" in the trilogy has basically the exact same plot as the first one, only it's told from the perspective of a boy in New York.

Another thing I found disappointing was the way certain relationships developed in the third book. The most powerful relationships in the first two books were those of family. The love and sacrifices of Miranda's mother for her children, of Alex Morales for his bratty sister Julie, and so on. The way these family members cared for each other reminded me - (sorry to keep going back to it) - of Peeta's love for Katniss. Pure and strong and certain. But in the third book, a few characters begin forming new romantic attachments that seem whimsical and not grounded in anything other than hormones. And suddenly it is these new relationships that matter more than anything - more than the family ties that have allowed these characters to survive against all odds for the last year.

But...I guess people can't be expected to act rationally in a world where half a can of sardines is considered a hearty meal and picking valuables off bloated corpses in the street is a savvy trick for survival.

Ok I have rambled on long enough. I do recommend these books. They're not classics in the genre the way things like The Hunger Games or The Giver are, but they're definitely worth reading.