Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The best part of coming back to school today after a wonderful Christmas break was finding an ARC of The Dead & The Gone waiting for me. I’ve been dying to read this book and it certainly didn’t disappoint. But on to the review . . .

Life As We Knew It was one of my favorite books that I read in 2007. I found myself thinking about it for days and wondering how I would survive if faced with the same conditions as Miranda and her family (I dare anyone to read it and not want to start hoarding canned food). Miranda lived in rural Pennsylvania and her location definitely assisted in her survival. I did wonder, however, how people in big cities, without access to things like firewood, would be able to live through the long winter that was created by the atmospheric conditions. The Dead & The Gone takes us to one of the largest cities in the United States and attempts to answer that question.

Alex lives in a small apartment in New York City with his parents and his two sisters. His older brother is in the Marines and is stationed in California. When the moon is hit by an asteroid and pushed closer to the Earth, his father is in Puerto Rico and his mother is quickly called in to work at a hospital in Queens. Alex and his sisters are initially not panicked when they don’t hear from their parents (they do get a garbled phone call that might be from their father, but that’s it), but as time goes on, Alex begins to realize that they are on their own.

Life in New York becomes brutal. There is very little food, and many people escape, either to relocation camps or to other places outside the city. Alex’s family has no place to go, and since they have not found their parents’ bodies, they hold on to a sliver of hope that they might still be alive. If they leave the city, their parents and their older brother may never be able to find them.

As people in the city begin to die of starvation and disease, Alex learns that one of the only ways to get food is to strip the bodies of the dead and trade what he gets (watches, coats, shoes, etc) for food. It is a brutal, soul-robbing way to survive but it is what Alex must do if his family is to live. Eventually Alex realizes that the only way to make it through this is to leave New York, but how can he get himself and his sisters out?

There is so much to love about this book. First of all, I loved the fact that it was a completely different story than Life As We Knew It. While I certainly hope that Ms. Pfeffer writes a sequel to Miranda’s story, this book was meant to be an completely different story, and it is that. The entire tone is different – and that is made perfectly clear early in the book when Alex travels to Yankee Stadium to search through hundreds of bodies for his mother.

I also loved the religious aspects to this story. Faith is very important to Alex and his family, and it helps sustain them through some very rough periods. And without the help of the parochial schools that the family attends, the family would have not been able to stretch out their food.

Even though it is only January 2 and I have a lot of books to read before the end of the year, I would be surprised if The Dead & The Gone doesn’t make my list of best books of 2008.

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