Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book review: The Dead and the Gone

If you enjoy books that leave you with a certain feeling... heart-wrenching despair? Just this side of utter hopelessness? A hollow, depressing fear of the future? Boy have I got a series for you!

I am exaggerating a little, but not as much as you might like to believe. And yes, I do enjoy experiencing stories that leave me feeling that dejected. I don't know how popular this line of thinking might be, but I appreciate the sensation of having my emotions played upon, even the negative ones. I find it worthwhile and beneficial to my development as a human being. I even have a strange appreciation for the bad things that really happen to me, even as I might curse them with every ounce of strength in my body while I'm in the midst of such an occurrence. I think about it with... satisfaction? Not satisfaction at what happened, but at the process, the journey. That something helpful will, or did come out of it.

To bring this back around, let's talk about the "Last Survivors" series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The first book is titled LIFE AS WE KNEW IT, in which we meet teenager Miranda and her family living in Pennsylvania right before a cataclysmic event changes the entire Earth. An asteroid hits the moon, knocking it closer to our planet and causing worldwide natural disasters. There are earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, food shortages, disease and death by the bucketful. In her journal, Miranda chronicles the way her family copes with the immense changes and the almost insurmountable challenge of surviving in this new world.

THE DEAD AND THE GONE is the second book in the series, which follows a new set of characters who live in New York. Seventeen year old Alex Morales lives in an apartment with his parents and two younger siblings while his older brother serves in the Marines. After being briefly introduced we are once again plunged into the horror that is brought on by something so simple as a moon being shifted out of alignment. Alex's parents are missing, and he is left to try and keep his sisters alive throughout the aftermath of this apocalyptic incident.

I fully consider these books to be part horror, even though they technically fit better into post-apocalyptic, survival genres that sidle in closer to science fiction. But for me at least, these books touch on a deep-seated fear I have and exploit it for all its worth. It is horrific. Thousands, even millions of people die. Characters you grow to care about die. People do horrible things to each other. Yet, there is the tiniest flicker of hope and kindheartedness underneath it all.

So don't mistake me when I say how bleak this series is. It is bleak, but it also holds a message about the strength of the human condition, the kindness people share when facing a dangerous world together, and the things that truly matter when all of our society's luxuries and comforts are stripped away to the bare bones of simply surviving. Things like family, morality, self-reliance, and for some like Alex, faith. THE DEAD AND THE GONE is not an easy read. It will chill you, it will make you uncomfortable and distressed thinking about how easily something similar to this could really happen. But those are things that are worth feeling and contemplating. I believe doing so encourages appreciation for the things one does have right now, more compassion for those who perhaps do not have what we do, who might already be starving and struggling in the world as it is. Best of all, it inspires us, gives us hope that we can endure and survive despite the difficulties life may throw our way.

The "Last Survivors" series via Goodreads
Susan Beth Pfeffer's blog

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