Monday, October 26, 2009

On Volcanic Eruptions and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer: Young Adult Book Review

Life as We Knew It
Susan Beth Pfeffer
0152058265 / 9780152058265
337 p.

This was one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Sixteen-year-old Miranda is a typical teen living a usual life in a small town … until an asteroid hits the moon and knocks it off its orbit. Within days, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis have killed millions. Soon after, volcanic ash permeates the atmosphere, ushering in an early, exceptionally cold, and exceedingly long winter.

Through daily entries in her diary, Miranda tells the story of how her family nearly freezes and starves to death. Day by day, over the course of 10 months, the reader experiences the grim dwindling of resources, the infrequent reasons for optimism, and the inescapable death of hope. For me, the end of communication with anyone other than those who lived within a mile or two of Miranda’s family was one of the most frightening aspects of the book. It made me realize how much I rely on television, radio and the internet to inform me about what’s happening in the world.

Fortunately, Miranda’s mother had the sense to stock up on food before things got too dire, and the subsequent, to-be-expected mass looting of provisions. Day by day, Miranda records the food her mother allows them to eat, and the too frequent times when they eat nothing at all. The book goes on and on, with Miranda recording also the struggle to stay warm, the minor irritations between her family members who are confined to one room of the house, and the disease and death that settles over her small town.

Toward the end, I seriously doubted that anyone would survive. But in the end, there is a small glimmer of hope. Had this been a real occurrence, it’s still doubtful to me that anyone would survive, but I'm glad that Ms. Pfeffer chose to come down on the side of hope. That's what novels are for.

Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Eruption

On a personal note, my family experienced the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980. For days, weeks and months afterwards, this created varying amounts of havoc in the surrounding area. The most frightening aspect to me, once I knew what was happening, was to watch the sky growing ever darker with ash. We heard the explosion at around 8:30 am. (Mt. St. Helens is over 300 miles away from where we live.) My husband and I were outside planting shrubs at our new house. We spent the morning watching a dark cloud moving closer and closer to us. We thought it was a thunderstorm, but it wasn't getting any cooler or windier. At lunchtime, we went inside and turned on the radio. That's when we found out that Mt. St. Helens had erupted. Scientists had been predicting it for months.

By 2:00 pm, you couldn’t see your hand stretched out in front of you. Throughout the day and evening, birds, blind in flight, kept smacking against our windows, which was eerie and unnerving. When I went to bed that night, it was with dread: Would we see the sun in the morning?

Fortunately, we did.

These are our kids outside in the ash the next day. It may've looked like snow, but it smelled acrid, like ashes from a fire.

This picture was taken on July 27. I was in the hospital after having our third baby, on the 26th. The morning of the 27th, my husband and his dad decided to go see the mountain that'd blown its top off. There were restrictions about how close you could fly near it. This was as close as you could get at that time.

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