Pfeffer, Susan Beth (2008). The Dead and the Gone. NY: Harcourt. 321 pages.
When I saw this one on the new book shelf at the library, I was like, “Finally!” I felt like everyone had read the Pfeffer’s sequel to Life as We Knew It except me. This latest novel employs the same premise as Life–an asteroid has hit the moon, causing it to move closer to the Earth, which leads to devastating changes on the planet–but describes the aftermath in the New York City setting, rather than the rural Pennsylvania in which the first book is set.
When the moon is knocked out of its typical orbit, seventeen-year-old Alex Morales is at work in a Manhattan pizza parlor. His father is in Puerto Rico at a family funeral and his mother is at work in a Queens hospital, so Alex is the only one left at home to care for and comfort his younger sisters, Briana, fifteen, and Julie, twelve. As the city begins to deteriorate in ways predicted by Life as We Knew It–the electricity and phones fail intermittently, supplies dwindle, and flooding from high tides wipe out Lower Manhattan–Alex and his sisters begin to lose hope that their parents have survived and they try to make it on their own.
The city setting of this novel distinguishes it from the first and adds elements of unpredictability to the familiar storyline. Interestingly, The Dead ends up addressing class issues in a way never tackled by Life; though he is a rare scholarship student among the wealthier boys at his Catholic school, Alex witnesses and, in some cases, benefits from the advantages of the richer students. We learn that the government–both local and national–is taking care of its elite and is working on relocating the Fortune 500 company leaders to a safer zone where the United States’ government will be re-established. Additionally, some of the higher ranking and necessary city employees are being cared for at city centers while the rest of the citizens (read: the less privileged ones) have to take their chances at poorly maintained evacuation centers.
This is another riveting novel in a semi speculative fiction vein from a classic author of young adult literature (anybody besides me have a copy of Fantasy Summer?). My one critique of this one involves the novel’s expectation that the reader will have read and remembered much of Life as We Knew It. In the second book, there’s not nearly the same amount of explication related to the moon’s shift and its effects; rather, the floods and volcanic eruptions happen, and are sort of blamed on the moon, but never really scientifically justified. It’s not that I need some kind of Nature essay, here, but I would have liked a little more explanation than I got (and that I remembered, just not so clearly, from the first book). That said, it’s clear that lack of information is and would be a problem in a situation such as the one described in the book; therefore, the characters’–and our–lack of full understanding might be more of a literary device. That said–again!–it seems like the characters would be very interested in finding out exactly what was going on and what scientific folks predicted would happen, so I don’t get why some of the information Alex learned during his regular sessions with the battery-operated radio weren’t made public to us readers.