the dead & the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

the dead and the goneI have never been frightened by a book.  When I was a toddler, I could look at picture books full of dragons and dinosaurs and scary witches without ever turning a hair.  When I recommend picture books to parents at the library, I have to continually remind myself that not all little children are as blase as I was. 

All those fears, though, have been released by the oeuvre of one author: Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I read her first book Life As We Knew It, when it came out a few years ago, and eagerly awaited the companion book, the dead & the gone, when I heard that it would be coming out this spring. 

The conceit of Pfeffer’s books is that an asteroid has hit the moon, pushing it closer to the earth and causing all manner of upheaval, in the tides, the weather, the earth, and society.  The first book was set in Pennsylvania, in a medium-sized town, and followed the family of a teenaged girl as they lived through the destruction of everything they knew.  The second book is set in New York City, and follows Alex Morales, a junior in high school.  When the asteroid hits the moon, his father is in Puerto Rico visiting family, and his mother is at work at a hospital in the Bronx; his older brother Carlos, a Marine, is stationed in California.  As the weeks go by, it becomes obvious that the only one available to take care of Alex and his two younger sisters is Alex himself.

Reading about Alex, Bri and Julia as they struggle to live without parents or income, in an increasingly deserted city, their only support their church and schools (both hard-hit themselves), as more and more terrible things keep happening, was extremely difficult.  Pfeffer’s writing is excellent, her characters are compelling, and (unfortunately) her situations are all-to-believable. 

There are no easy outs in this book, and no definite answers.  The story does end on a note of hope, but I’m still shaking at the power of the experience.  I’m excited — but also terrified — at the news that a third book is in the works.

Posted by: Sarah

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