Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Survivor trilogy by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The moon gets hit by an asteroid and then goes into a closer orbit around the earth, and whiny teenagers everywhere are about to find out that life isn’t about finding a prom dress, and that a nice supper might involve a two-year-old can of Popeye spinach and some dog food.

That’s the premise of the trilogy written by Susan Beth Pfeffer for nervous young people.

We meet Whiny Teenager number one, Miranda, in Pfeffer’s first moon book, Life As We Knew It.

Miranda keeps a diary, and she is as shallow as a puddle. I thought after page 100 or so, by which time the moon’s closer orbit had already caused lots of trouble (volcanic ash, earthquakes, etc.), Miranda would quit running off to her bedroom and slamming the door because mean old Mom kept hurting her feelings.

But I hung in there, because I found the plot fascinating: Just what is a girl to do when she runs out of lipstick and she can’t wash her hair because there’s no shampoo or running water?

Miranda takes a very long time to wise up. She worries about her brother Matt being the favorite, even as her friends die or get robbed.

I was happy to see that Pfeffer started off volume two with a new protagonist, Alex, who went through the same moon trauma in a New York City apartment.

Alex was a bit anal and never whined. He was driven to be perfect. He liked knowing rules so he knew where he stood.

With Alex, Pfeffer hits her stride. He learns quickly that to survive in New York City and to provide for his sisters, he’ll have to pull shoes off corpses and barter for boxes of rice. Alex doesn’t loll about in his family sunroom and vent to his diary--he grapples.

Book three, This Life We Live, brings Alex and Miranda together, which is rather clever of Pfeffer, but we’re back to diary-writer Miranda taking over the point-of-view, so Alex becomes more controlling and difficult, pushy and obnoxious as seen through Miranda’s hard-to-please eyes. They inevitably fall in love, being in close proximity for days and weeks and being full of hormones, but first, obligatorily, they have to find each other irritating for many chapters.

There’s very little information about the moon once it does its thing in chapter one of volumes one and two, and I found this frustrating. Clearly, Pfeffer did some research or made some good guesses about the results of a changed moon orbit, but she kept communication with the characters’ outside worlds limited, so that basically they were clueless about what was happening (“Why is it so cold in August? Why is it snowing gray snow?”) and, more baffling, none of the young people particularly wanted to know what was going on around the planet. Some of them even refused to be given information, which might have made it easier for the writer but was frustrating for the reader.

And there were questions I simply couldn’t answer, and Pfeffer gave me no help: Where were all these canned goods coming from? Were there new canneries? Nope--no sunshine, what with all those volcanoes erupting and hence, no photosynthesis--and who would go to work at a cannery anyway, when money was useless? So, when the cans ran out or expired, what next in a non-sunshine world? Duh: no book four, fer sure...

(Pfeffer used as a plot point some secret “safe towns,” where apparently every problem was solved--there was plenty of gasoline, trucks pulled in weekly with groceries, there were hospitals and schools!--but only people under 18 could get passes, and the passes were for the rich and powerful only. And surely Pfeffer knows that even the richest and most powerful can’t have green veggies if there aren’t any.)

There are lots of holes in her plot, but I found the story arc tight and interesting, and (even though I knew she would make her whiners grow up) she did adequately demonstrate that appalling circumstances tend to make even shallow people mature--or die off.

One thing I learned about myself from pondering this plot: If the moon changes orbit, I’m going to shoot myself before somebody steals my shoes.

I’m no grappler. Like Miranda, I'd be whining, and writing long, self-pitying diary entries.

B&N link

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