Post-Apocalyptic Book Club: Week 5 – Life As We Knew It

Sharon August 4th, 2008

Ok, before I post this, I wanted to just remind everyone to check out the new magazine – there are more details in the next post down.  Also, I’ll be starting my Adapting In Place class tomorrow – I still have one registered participant whose email is bouncing and I can’t get in touch with.  If you are registered for class and not enrolled in the discussion group, PLEASE email me at [email protected].

Ok, on to month two, over-cutely named “The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse” – and this month, I really want to run books that are, I think, in many ways parallel to the two works we ran last month – that is, I’m not looking for the best books on the apocalypse by women, but the most representative.  And I really wanted to start this month with this particular book, written particularly for teenage girls and the same young adult audience for which Heinlein wrote much of his work. 

One of the reasons that I think this book is so representative is that it is, IMHO, the female version of the bunker scenario.  Oh, it happens in an ordinary home, and there are no guns (and no guns needed, no threats of any kind except the neighbors and the caricature of a minister) but I think if there were a single book to represent an apocalyptic *FANTASY* – one probably as unrealistic as the cannibal scenes in Lucifer’s Hammer, this would be the book.

First, there’s the shopping scene, which strikes me, with my concerns about food, as a kind of apocalyptic pornography (I’m sort of joking here, but only sort of) – that is, there’s about to be a massive starvation crisis, but here is a supermarket, ripe for the plucking, filled with everything you could want, no shortages, no depletion, the protaganists have all the cash they need, all the foresight, all the everything.  As someone who inherited various grandmother’s terror that sometime there might not be enough to go around, this is the dream scene – and as unrealistic as most porn. 

And then there’s the book’s rapid move inward, with only a little critique from our heroine.  The world the heroine lives in gets narrower and narrower – and she recognizes this – she fights her mother on it, wanting to donate blankets and goods to survivors in New York.  When it is time to close off her view and move the whole family into one room, she fights it.

But what undermines Miranda’s resistance is that her mother is always right, that the narrow view always is the safe one.  They do need every blanket.  And the price of altruism is suffering and death – Peter, the mother’s boyfriend dies from his altruism.  When the mother gives asprin to a sick family, she and the rest of the family become ill and nearly die.  The force of events constantly reinforces the mother’s viewpoint that they should huddle in their home, never interacting, not sharing.  The only thing that undermines this is Miranda’s final trek, where she discovers that food deliveries (along with electricity), resuming by some deus ex machina solution never detailed, have been going on for a few weeks, but they didn’t know about them.  They survive, in the end, because Miranda left the house – but she left not for help, not to reconnect with their community, but to find out the fate of her soon to be born sister – that is, to tighten the family circle.

 The book itself is clearly ambivalent about the kind of narrative it has written, but it also finally clearly affirms the centrality of the family, surviving on its own, a kind of suburbanized and domesticized Swiss Family Robinson, on an island, in a row of houses all alone.

 What do you think?


32 Responses to “Post-Apocalyptic Book Club: Week 5 – Life As We Knew It”

  1. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Post-Apocalyptic Book Club: Week 5 – Life As We Knew It Ok, on to month two, over-cutely named “The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse” – and this month, I really want to run books that are, I think, in many ways parallel to the two works we ran last month – that is, I’m not looking for the best books on the apocalypse by women, but the most representative. And I really wanted to start this month with this particular book, written particularly for teenage girls and the same young adult audience for which Heinlein wrote much of his work. Retreat Region Demographics and TEOTWAWKI August 3rd, 2008 [...]

  2. Student says:

    You are right about the grocery store scene, Sharon, although it is not so unexpected given that the emergency in the book wasn’t the long emergency we are facing. It was “in your face” and the mother was only thinking of her own family. I’m not sure we would do anything different if the emergency came out of the blue, with no warning or time for preparation.

    This certainly is a lesson for everyone – believers in peak oil/climate change – or not. Things can fall apart overnight. It doesn’t matter how many beans you have in your basement if the emergency never stops. And we know that the government won’t be saving us. No bags of groceries delivered on a snow mobile at the 11th hour.

    Fundamentally, it always seems to come down to relationship. The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. Our relationship with family, of course, but also our relationships with our neighbors, our community, our environment, our body and soul, and our God – whatever we perceive that to be.

    We are here at a threshold time. If you believe that you are here for a purpose, to serve more than yourself and your immediate family, than that time is now. That is the thought I came away from this book with.

  3. rheather says:

    I thought that the narrowing of their lives almost killed them….if they had been in touch with the neighbors maybe they would have know about the mysteriously arrived government food earlier.

    And I was thinking what about the cat’s food? Did no one think of eating that?

    Gripping read but, boy oh boy, was it depressing.

  4. Rosa says:

    Student, the mom cut off some relationships, though. She definitely did not include the kids important relationships. The sort-of boyfriend is the clearest example; though you’d think the oldest son would have some attachments from college. If I had rushed home because of an emergency when I was 20, I probably would have brought along a needy friend – or since my girlfriend then was from a nearby farm family, I would have *been* the stray brought home, probably.

    I wondered if the structure was deliberately echoing the Diary of Anne Frank, because the narrowing and the main character’s defense of her view really reminded me of that.

  5. Texicali says:

    I am not quite done (err sort of now that I know the ending, but I was fairly certain that it would turn out all right in the end), but boy is it depressing. LH was a lark. Explosions, cannibals, wars between good and evil. I guess that is because LH was written for a younger version of me, whereas Life was not. I found the climate change the most disturbing, because when I look at peak oil I think “ahh, I can handle that because it isn’t all that different from by great-grandparents world.” But thinking about the possibility of substantial climate shifts wiping out your garden is different. I know that is unlikely to happen at such a rate, but my area is likely to get dryer and if municipal water fails there wont be much growing but the old oak trees.

  6. Student says:

    Rosa, you’re right – it reminds me of Anne Frank, too. In this story, the outside forces were primarily environmental, but with a similar effect on the characters.

    Perhaps this was a “bottle” plot – where a small number of characters are stuck together and the story develops around their interactions and emotions. I haven’t read it recently, but I seem to remember that the girl left in a blizzard, not necessarily to find out news of her father and baby step-sister, but to sacrifice herself so that her mom and brothers would have more food. Did I misremember?

  7. MEA says:

    I have yet to finish the book (having first read the compaion book, name of which now escapes me) about a Hispanic family in New York (an 17 year old boy and his younger sisters–and in that book staying in touch with community, in this case centered around the local RC church and schools) saves them.

    But in LASKI, the message (and I don’t know if that was the author intent) is that you can only spiral inwards for so long: at some point you have to seek outward. (Of course, if you have you self-sufficent bunker in the hills, that doesn’t apply.) What strikes me about both books is how much is given to the main characters and how little they give back (asprin accepted, and that seemed to re-inforce the turn inwards motif).


  8. Hummingbird says:

    I didn’t think the shopping scene was that unrealistic when I read it, because it seemed that the imminent collapse was not widely realized at the time, and I wondered how the mother grasped that so quickly when others didn’t. Then as now most people are not expecting to be thrust quickly on their own resources.

    I also didn’t grasp the significance of the family “turning inward” until Sharon pointed it out. She’s right, but then she has been thinking about these things a lot longer than I have. At the time it simply seemed the result of no means of transportation, bad weather, and no resources in town if you could get there.

    “Into the Forest” shows the slowly diminishing options for transportation and community resources more clearly, as the family is left to its own resources.

    The ending seemed unlikely when I read it. The author was quoted in Newsweek a couple of weeks ago saying something like “this is a young adult novel. You have to give them some hope.” She just couldn’t have them all die or revert to hunter gatherer status as in “Into the Forest.”

  9. Hummingbird says:

    Also, I also got the impression that the teen girl (Miranda is it?) was clearly going to town to die in order to leave enough food for her little brother (male) to survive and have a future. The “going to check for a letter from her father” was only the excuse she gave her mother for going. She did not think she would have the strength to get home, and even told her older brother she would leave the skis hidden near the house for him to use in foraging, thus eliminating any chance she would ever make it home. She wanted her mother to believe she was coming back so she would have some hope. At this point, she took over as family savior from her mother, whom she was then protecting from reality; the “coming of age” part of the teen novel. Of course she was also taking on the role of sacrificial victim for the boys of the family.

    One other thing that bothered me was, if nobody had left the house or visited for weeks, where in the world did they get the flu? It was too cold out for bugs to be drifting around in the air.

    That part, as well as the ending, was clearly unrealistic.

  10. Rosa says:

    You’re right, Hummingbird – she thought she was going to die. But she did want to know about the baby (“Rachel”), she thought that would make her feel better about dying.

    The flu came from the neighbor who wanted aspirin.

    The thing I thought was interesting was how limited the main character’s life was by *fear* of things being bad, as much as by things actually getting bad. She hears a rumor that a girl she knows was kidnapped and starts staying home, then sees the girl. That seems like a class difference to me – I don’t know any working-class teenaged girls who feel safe alone, that’s why they travel in groups.

    I do wonder, as the illusion of safety that comes from a car and a cell phone, disappears, if that wouldn’t be more common – I know that a lot of the women I work with won’t bike to work because they have to bike through poor neighborhoods and it feels unsafe. Where, I’ve been biking through the same neighborhoods for almost a decade now, and been threatened/mugged at about the exact same rate as the car drivers- threatened a few times, never mugged.

  11. texicali says:

    One other thing I found to be unrealistic. How did they get well water without electricity? Not a lot of information about them standing out there with a hand pump. Was it a spring? Must have been high up if they had water on the second floor.

  12. Susan in NJ says:

    Sharon, you hit a lot of what struck me as unrealistic about this book. I didn’t think of the parallel to Anne Frank, which is an interesting comparison.
    My overall thought is that many of the weaknesses in this book are a result of it being a YA book. And I really wonder how it’s targeted audience (now immersed in vampires, werewolves and HP) reacts. I asked a rather sophisticated, book loving daughter of a friend if she would read it and give me her take. And another of her friends, younger emotionally, told me she already had the book (a gift) and would read it and tell me what she thought.
    The depiction of the young women and their relation to their caretaker parents in the book bothered me — one agrees at the request of her mother to restrict her food even more so that her seemingly oblivious younger (by one year) brother can have more meals than everyone else another girl, more involved with boys already, is traded by her parents to a 40 year old man for food; and a third girl, perhaps with eating issues already, is deep in a church (turned cultish) and her mother simply passes on any say in the matter.
    It also seemed bizarre to me that our heroine’s family took until the food had almost run out to realize (through mom) that maybe they’s be better off not eating their “big” (or only) meal at night after they’d spent a whole day chopping wood and trying to keep warm — a real “duh” momment, for what appears to be a well-educated family that should have heard the “eat breakfast” message at some point in their lives.
    Also sometimes I thought all the volcanic grit in the air existed solely so that they would be continually washing clothes.

  13. MEA says:

    I have to say, the compaion book, written later though covering much the same time, deals better with a number of issues. Author seems to be on a learning curve. But the assumptions about gender roles is still there. I thought at first it was part of the family she wrote about (at one point it’s mentioned that even when the mother went back to school and then worked full time) she and the daughters did all the shopping, cooking, housework etc., and the boy who becomes head of the household assumes that the girls will continue to do this.


  14. Rosa says:

    Susan, the fate of her two friends didn’t strike me as unrealistic at all. Maybe because I didn’t grow up with middle class friends, but the “be nice to him, he’s helping us out” vibe hit several of my friends in high school…and that’s not even the girls with really awful families who traded access to them for drugs, or who themselves traded sex for a safe place to sleep, or a half-step up the job ladder. And the helplessness of parents in the face of eating disorders is very real, even for families with access to all the food they want and expert medical & psychiatric care.

    Miranda’s obedience was equally realistic to me – she had moments of rebellion but realized they made her mother feel terrified and sad – that’s a powerful force. I do think a lot of young women have freedom just to the end of the cell phone line. It’s not *me*, but I do see it around me.

    I thought the young men taking off looking for a better place was very true-to-life, too – again, it’s very common amoung young working-class men to go where they think the jobs are, or just to make room/take a strain off their family.

  15. Rosa says:

    Texicali – the well thing stood out to me, too. Maybe because I lived with a mostly-dry well and an electric pump that lost suction all the time and went out when we had ice storms.

    But maybe the author just put it out of mind as an unsoluble problem? Or maybe Sharons’ right about the deliberate bottle-plot and having to haul water from the river broke the conceit.

  16. Susan in NJ says:

    Rosa, I grew up in a farming town in the midwest where the other main avenue of work was an auto plant. What struck me as incongruous was these girls in this setting (which struck me as firmly middle america midldle class like the town where I grew up) is that all three of them had these parental issues — not that these things couldn’t and don’t happen in the real world and perhaps even more terrifyingly.
    I did think the actions of the young men were much more realistic.

  17. Hummingbird says:

    Thanks Rosa for telling me how they got the flu–I always wondered about that. Must have slept thru that part of the book.

    I also noticed the acceptance of traditional gender roles without even questioning them. Is there a message here to girls growing up?

    Miranda transitioned from daughter to “mother” without ever questioning the expectation that she would wash and cook and care for the sick and sacrifice herself while the men chopped wood and carried water and got more to eat. Is this what they are teaching “young adults” these days? Maybe Kuntsler is not so far out in his expectations of post-apocalyptic society.

  18. Kati says:

    I thought this book was horrid, for all that it moved a heck of a lot more quickly for me than either of the other two books. (I couldn’t finish EITHER of the other two books in a month’s time, but this one was read in 2 days. I hate not being able to finish a long book quickly anymore. I used to read books like MIAHM and LH like candy. Now it takes me months.)

    The food was what struck me most. The idiocy of stocking up on cans and cans and cans of stuff, but little to no fresh stuff. Mom obviously knew how to bake bread, but didn’t stock up on wheat & yeast??? Or even Bisquick or Jiffy mixes?!?!?! Please!!! And if you run out of yeast, quick breads. And if you’re out of flour, even Harvey from LH had the common sense to buy cornmeal and grits. Secondly, why didn’t they stock up on oil and crisco. Not that I like crisco at all myself, but to NOT include some form of fats in their diet?!?! No, one cannot survive on a single can of green beans. I noticed something else they didn’t seem to stock up on was powdered milk??? 3 teenagers, and you don’t buy a case of powdered milk? Ok…. So that’s nit-picky and maybe the author just didn’t want to go into that much detail, but still.

    Still on the food, I also thought it was rather stupid that the Mom bought flats of veggie seedlings, and mentioned how much she loved gardening, and yet didn’t buy any seeds for the possibility of growing more veggies throughout the summer, or even into the following year. What kinda idiot (who supposedly has her head on straight) doesn’t give any forethought to the next season’s supply?

    ALSO, the lack of hunting/gathering/foraging. The trees they were cutting down didn’t have nuts, or even the promise of nuts??? Mom didn’t know that dandilions are a wild-salad green, much less lambs quarters or chickweed??? Matt didn’t go along to the lake to do some fishing while Miranda swam??? How about setting some rabbit traps while you’re in the woods chopping firewood???

    If you don’t know anything about any of these subjects, how about that library that’s mentioned frequently in the book??? Can’t you find a book on trapping??? A book on local wild foods??? In fact, the fact that no mention was ever really made as to WHAT sorts of books they checked out at the library….. One would have to imagine that they were reading fluffy novels, without interspersing anything constructive and creative into their reading picks. And that pisses me off as well. The characters had the resources, the chance to learn and to try new things, and they relied solely on store-bought canned goods.

    I hate to say it, but the Mom sounds like my dad’s rantings against the quinticential democrat. (The steriotype, not necessarily the truth! Don’t flame me for making the observation and comparison. *grin*) The fact that A: she hated the current president who hails from a ranch in Texas. (*grin* Personally I couldn’t fault her taste there!) B: she has a major panic-attack about not being prepared previously and makes shoddy short-term preparations for her future and that of her children. C: in the end she makes it clear that help is going to have to come from external sources because it’s just not possible for her to do everything on her own. She expects a “Daddy-Government” to come in and save them with food and fuel. I don’t personally think it IS possible to do everything on one’s own, and that’s why we need to build communities as WELL as families. But, to expect on some all-knowing, all-generous government to come in and save the day is as unrealistic as anything I’ve ever read in any of the post-apocolyptic novels. And then, when it does happen that way at the very end…. It’s kinda confirmation that the author thinks Big Government/Big Brother IS protecting us and watching out for our best interests, sometimes it just takes a little time because OTHER THINGS get in it’s way. I’ve got enough of my dad’s perspective in me to know that not only is this take on the world and beaurocracy unhealthy, it’s really pretty dangerous.

    Next…. As a crocheter, it irked me that there were two mentions of Mom crocheting (or finding the yarn and supplies) and yet no mention is made as to whether she’s working on something truly handy, like a scarf or hat, or an afghan. Also, no mention of her attempting to teach her children how to make something with THEIR hands. It’s a passing mention, nothing more. If one’s family is all one can rely on to dig that same family out of a whole like this until the big-brother-government comes in to save the day, wouldn’t it stand to reason that Miranda and Jonny should have been taught to crochet even a simple scarf.

    My next peeve was the complete prissiness the Mom showed for letting Jonny in on the big, bad secret that something TRULY is wrong with the world!!! For crying out loud, he may be only 13, but there are plenty of cultures where that’s regarded more as an adult than a child. The mom’s insistence on protecting Jonny is silly and harmful to the rest of them.

    Anyway….. Yeah. This book pissed me off. I’m rather grateful that even given the realities of peak oil, and global warming and economic depression, we aren’t faced with the multiple disasters of world-wide tidal disruption due to a lunar astroid-strike. Or the volcanic winters that the characters suffer. I know that both problems would be realistic possibilities in the case of a moon bumped out out it’s normal orbit, and that the influenza outbreak is another realistic threat to our world, but to pile them all on at the same time…. It seemed more likely that the family would contract food poisoning or cholera than influenza, given their lack of contact with anybody outside the family.

    To sum it up, I didn’t like this book as it was incredibly unrealistic on almost all counts and simpering as to the theory that a savior government is going to show up in the nick of time and put our lives back in order.

  19. Rosa says:

    Susan, the girls did make a tidy set of “things that could happen to you”, didn’t they? It’s a little lazy of the author. That said, one of the things I liked about the book was that Miranda was suddenly facing fears that I see working-class girls dealing with all the time – am I safe? do my parents value my brother more than me? where can I be alone?

    It did seem like Miranda would have done just fine traveling around because in long johns, jeans, a t-shirt, and a winter coat a skinny person would just look like a person, not a girl. That’s been my experience traveling by myself anyway – in jeans & a hoodie, or a big coat, I just look like another dude. And i’m fat, and pretty hourglass-shaped.

    But again, the fear doesn’t have to be rational to work to limit people.

  20. dewey says:

    I wondered whether anyone else in the town wound up starving to death because Miranda’s mom had had the accessible wealth, large vehicle, and speedy reactions to run around to the stores and buy far more than their proportionate “share” of the available food stores. Since she knew, or believed, that there would be no more brought in, this was clearly hoarding at others’ expense, not stockpiling. She seemed to have make Looking Out for Number One her sole philosophy, although not as obnoxiously as in a typical male survivalist fantasy, which might have had her gunning down anyone who walked up the road looking like they might ask about food. (OTOH, it’s a pity nobody shot the hospital security guards; that’s the downside of “feminized,” disarmed disaster victims.) And I too was bothered by the assumption that the ultimate Number One is the most promising male offspring, and that being female is such a survival handicap that an older and more skilled daughter should be sacrificed as necessary to pave the way for the favored son. Yech.

  21. MEA says:

    A much better book, IMO is The way I live now, but it wouldn’t have raised the questions that this one did.

    Why do women/girls fall back so quickly into this 2nd class possition? I think one of the advanates of an all female household (and there are disadvantages too) is that we can’t just go quickly to boy jobs, girl jobs. There are just jobs to be done around the place. (Yeah, I’ve love to have big strong guy to do the grunt work, but that’s another story.)

    Is it that our models for survival come from a time when gender roles were more defined (though there were exceptions)? Is it that the authors can’t quite face what they are writing and so without realizing what they are doing fall into a “someone (male) will save us” trap?

    Is it some sort of idea that people managed this sort of thing in the old days, so we’d better pattern ourseves on them?


  22. Sarah says:

    MEA — did you mean “How I Live Now”? (The near-future wartime England one?) If so, I *loved* that book. I haven’t read LAWKI yet, because our library doesn’t have it and I kind of owe them too many fines to request it from another library (bad librarian; no cookie). But “How I Live Now” seems to address a lot of the same issues in a much more interesting way. I particularly like how food was dealt with, especially with the eating-disorder thread thrown in.

  23. jerah says:

    Wow. You guys really know how to pick a book apart. I thought I was a critical thinker. You’ve put me to shame. :)

    I liked this book. Really. Besides the fact that it took me not quite a day and a half to finish it (I ate it up) it makes no claims about how people should handle disaster. At least there were no overtly obnoxious “see how cool I am, I know how to make beef jerky, don’t you feel lame” kind of statements.

    I mean, yes, the mom panicked and hoarded and they should have shared with the neighbors. Definitely. But I really liked the narrow focus of the book. No talk about rebuilding civilization, short of a kind of guilty admission that the kids weren’t doing their homeschool reading when they were supposed to. A very detailed description about food, and who ate what, and how it made them feel, and all the guilt issues surrounding eating, not eating, providing, hoarding, preparing food. A very detailed look at what slow starvation looks like. The fact that the older brother probably did permanent damage to his heart when he was sick and helped the girl move the two others to the other room…

    That particular detail was really interesting to me. I mean, when was the last time we’ve had to think about the damage that malnutrition does to our bodies? Never. We all know people who don’t eat well, but it’s usually more of a function of overeating of a specific kind of bad food than an actual caloric lack. But it’s one of those areas of information that, really, we should all probably get more educated about. I mean, basic nutrition is essential. But how do we assess risk and decide what is safe, when even the essentials aren’t available? Harm reduction strategies would be good to know more about. I might have to go look into those books on famine (thanks for the pointers, whoever it was who mentioned them on that other comments thread).

    I don’t know. I think the book’s ethics may have been questionable, but it was an interesting look at what might happen if things just actually collapsed all of a sudden. Some people’s first instinct probably WOULD be to hoard green beans. They would just think, green beans are healthy, right? Isn’t that the kind of thing you should hoard? If you’re a mom, and want to feed your kids healthy food?

    Also, maybe all the flour and cornmeal and grits had already been hoarded by the middle-aged men who had read Lucifer’s Hammer 30 years ago, so the only thing left was green beans. :)

    I really liked the encounter with the figure skating pro kid/crush out on the ice, and how the main character kind of dismisses it later. In terms of the plot, it was an exorcism of her previous adolescent silliness, but the author treated the whole scene with just enough respect that it wasn’t silly, and when the girl dismisses the whole thing later and says it was probably just a hallucination, the reader isn’t totally convinced. You feel like, even if it was a hallucination, it was an essential little moment, when the emotional loose ends got tied up so the character could keep going, with her load a little lighter.

    It’s silly that I enjoyed that so much, it’s probably just the adolescent girl inside the grown-up me, hoping that girls who are adolescents now will get those little indulgent, romantic moments that help them bridge the difference between the world as they thought it would be and the world that gets handed to them. I mean, damn, it was hard enough to be 16 back when I was. I hope today’s 16-year-olds catch a break once in a while and are able to use all of their crazy, flexible, over-emotional minds to deal with what’s coming.

  24. Rebecca says:

    To whomever said that others probably starved to death because they hoarded food when they knew no more was coming: that is called survival. It’s often not pretty. When the chips are down and you know someone is going to come up snake eyes, everyone in the world will do the best they can to make sure it doesn’t happen to be their family. I’d do the same thing if I had kids. I wouldn’t be proud of it, but as a parent you have to put your kids first and that can mean making some *very* hard choices.

    One more thing about the shopping scene: don’t laugh, but when I was a teenager I had this recurring dream where TEOTWAWKI occured and I was one of the few survivors. After I made sure I was safe and everything I inevitably went and robbed the mall. That dream is probably the only time I ever acted like a typical teenager.

  25. Segwyne says:

    I, too, really enjoyed the book. I couldn’t get through TMIAHM, and I am still waiting on my ILL of LH, so this is the first book I have read. Yes, there were many unrealistic parts in the book. I thought it was really more like a sampler. There’s climate change, peak oil, social breakdown, starvation, illness, etc., and while I think it is unlikely that all of them will happen concurrently and overnight, I think any of them happening overnight are plausible, and several of them concurrently is also plausible, but not overnight.

    I thought that the Mom was unnaturally savvy and wealthy to make the preparations and decisions she did, and that gave them an obvious advantage. I also questioned making Jonny the chosen one to survive. Really, I would have chosen either Matt or Miranda. Especially Matt. If only one of them had to survive, Matt or Miranda would have been much better equipped developmentally to emigrate. A 19- or 16-year-old can fend for themselves much better than a 13-year-old.

    After I read it, I handed it to my 12-year-old daughter. She enjoyed reading it, and I used it to try to explain why we are making some of the preparations that we are. I thought it was a very useful book for introducing the disasters we face.

  26. Student says:

    One last note from me. Whether realistic or not, whether the mom was stupid for forgetting the grits and cornmeal, aside from the magic well that pumped without electricity, beyond the disturbing acceptance of male child over female and so on (Mom was a product of her upbringing, too), this story tugged at my heartstrings.

    What mother (or father) doesn’t panic at the thought of not being able to feed their children? What teenager (which, after all, this book was written for) wouldn’t be shell-shocked in this situation? I thought Miranda was heroic, in probablly the only way possible under these circumstances.

    Self-reliance and sustainable living has nearly been bred out of us – who among us, young or old, would be prepared for a disaster like this? (Well, not among us, maybe, but most folks)

    If this book makes young people stop and think about life without Ipods, without gasoline, without electricity and ultimately without food, then I think it has done a service.

  27. MEA says:

    Yes — How I live now (I must have been challening Trollope for a moment).

    I think one of the advantages to literature in almost any genre is that it gives us a chance to second guess, be it, would I buy grits or bean or both? or would I have listen to Friar Lawrence?

  28. Rosa says:

    It is heroic, to keep going and hoping.

    I always wonder how people go on. In high school I read a short story about a boy whose whole family died of the flu (I’ve been trying to remember what it was and the internet isn’t helping…is it in Winesburg, Ohio? Anyway.)

    There’s a guy who works the front desk of one of our community centers whose forearm was cut off with a machete and lost most of his extended family in a massacre; there are a lot of Somali and Hmong people here who grew up in wars and refugee camps. I have a friend whose parents were Holocaust survivors and raised her to stick with almost the kind of confines Miranda’s mother puts on her.

    When I worked food service, we had a Vietnam vet who had been homeless for decades who came into the deli for ice & water every day, and our manager was always trying to get us to kick him out. Now I run into guys back from Iraq all the time on the bus that goes out to the VA, trying to keep it together and get rehabilitation therapy and a job, worrying about the people they know still over there.

    I look at how hard individual losses have hit me, and can’t even imagine how people pick up and go on, much less make anything resembling good decisions.

  29. Rosa says:

    It is heroic, to keep going and hoping.

    I always wonder how people go on. In high school I read a short story about a boy whose whole family died of the flu (I’ve been trying to remember what it was and the internet isn’t helping…is it in Winesburg, Ohio? Anyway.)

    There’s a guy who works the front desk of one of our community centers whose forearm was cut off with a machete and lost most of his extended family in a massacre; there are a lot of Somali and Hmong people here who grew up in wars and refugee camps. I have a friend whose parents were Holocaust survivors and raised her to stick with almost the kind of confines Miranda’s mother puts on her.

    I look at how hard individual losses have hit me, and can’t even imagine how people pick up and start over, much less make anything resembling good decisions.

  30. Megan says:

    I saw a lot of parallels to The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Also a very depressing book with a happy ending. The ending of Wilder’s book is a little easier to believe because you know it’s loosely based on the truth. The colder and colder temperatures and the food running out. Having gone through it herself, I think Wilder does a better job of capturing the family dynamics.

  31. Nettle says:

    I read the book in one long stretch on an 8-hour train ride yesterday. I just read “World Made By Hand” last week, so I found this to be sort of an antidote to reading WMBH and LH back-to-back. No adultery! No swaggering! It was refreshing.

    I enjoyed it up to the end. I found the narrative structure with its ever-narrowing focus to be, for the most part, well done – it made it all the more claustrophobic at the end – but I hated the ending. They are all about to starve to death and… a snowmobile full of food appears. The end. It made no sense. It didn’t feel like an ending at all. It was as bad as the end of WMBH. I agree with Megan that it’s similar to “Long Winter” in many ways, only “Long Winter” was a much better book (and the food delivery in LW was based on an actual event.) I also saw the parallels to “Anne Frank.”

    I’m not even Christian and I was offended by the portrayal of the church. I wonder if by having a particularly psychotic church in place, the author got around any possibility of having an organized community center that would get the family out of the house and involved with other people. She clearly wanted to write a “trapped on a desert island” story, and a functional community of any kind would have undermined that.

  32. Megan says:

    I also read her companion book, cheerfully entitled “The Dead and the Gone” which is about the same events seen through the eyes of a Puerto Rican man teenager in New York City. Refreshingly, he had a community which sustained and ultimately saved him which centered around a Catholic church and school. I wonder if she got complaints about the minister sequence. It reminded me of the crazy cannibal minister in Lucifer’s Hammer.

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