Review: Life as We Knew It (Last Survivors, #1)

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Review for "Life as We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2006)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Dumbest. Apocalypse. Ever.

I’m not a one star kinda gal unless I hated the book. Needless to say, I really really really hated this book.

First off, I love dystopian lit. This one rang a bell because it’s two of my favorite things: dystopian and YA. So I read it. And man, that’s where the problems began.

NOTE: Spoilers abound & I don’t care…

Part of the thrill of reading dystopian fiction is reveling in the fact that it COULD happen–you just never know where or when. Another part of the game is that the scenario presented has to be scientifically sound, even on a basic level. Not so with this book, because there ain’t no way in hell any of this shit in this book could actually happen. In this one, the moon is knocked off course by an asteroid (which, strangely, no one sees coming), which brings it closer to Earth. The tides fall out of whack, bringing massive tsunamis that kill most of the population in low lying and coastal areas.

Then there’s mosquitoes (huh? why?) that threaten the population with malaria, massive earthquakes around the world, and finally Yellowstone volcanoes, seemingly triggered by the gravitational chaos. There’s a little bit of ash, it’s dark early, and it’s cold out. Umm…excuse me…WHAT? A massive eruption in Yellowstone would spell death by burning ash and darkness for much of America within WEEKS. Not just a slight temperature change like it’s an early winter. And it certainly would not involve characters strolling around in their Pennsylvania hometown, going to the library and ice skating like there’s nothing going on.

And oh…the characters. Miranda is a 16-year-old high schooler whose diary makes up this book. She whines about not seeing her friends and being unable to eat as many chocolate chip cookies as she wants while the end of the world is going on. Her mother rails against the government and her daughter seeing boys. Somewhere in the middle of all the earthquakes and the electricity going out, the family still manages to send her little brother to baseball camp. Another one of Miranda’s friends is a religious psycho-nut who doesn’t want to eat because God will take care of her. As a matter of fact, nearly everyone in this book who holds Christian beliefs is portrayed as a delusional weirdo. Not that I care about the author’s personal beliefs about organized religion, but all the proselytizing didn’t help the narrative. At all.

There’s other improbable scenarios. There are no police, yet Miranda takes it on herself to wander around her hometown alone, going swimming and ice skating, seemingly unbothered. When the power comes on intermittently, the internet (somehow) works also. Services such as the post office and the library are still open, yet we’re told there is no gas. A deadly flu epidemic kills most of the people in the town and several members of Miranda’s family fall ill, but miraculously Miranda never falls sick and no one dies. When the family runs out of food at the end, Miranda spends her last bit of energy going to city hall and learning about all of the food shortages and crop failures out in the world–and then receives a bag of food that city hall has been giving out every Monday. How is this possible? If there is a shortage of crops, where does this food come from in a land of no gas?? The final abasement here is when the power comes on at the end of the book–despite the fact that we’re told most of the country is either dead and/or lying under ash. 

And the story just plain sucks. Page after page in the middle of the book is nothingness, just play by play details of the family’s life in their sunroom, having conversations about food and books and what not. Yawn.

Apparently there are three other books in this series, however, I won’t be reading them. I don’t recommend this, I’d stay far away from this book.

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Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

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Review for "The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" by Meg Elison (2016)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is so full of Win I don’t know where to start. Post-apocalyptic feminist fiction. Sign me up.

This novel takes place in a not-too distant future, with an unnamed female nurse-midwife waking up in a deserted hospital after a plague has ravaged most of the world’s population. The plague takes on the form of a fever, striking everyone but mostly women in childbirth, who give birth to dead babies and in turn die as well. Because of the extreme scarcity of women, the world has become a dangerous place for them. There are no rules or civility, and women in the world after the plague are regularly raped, mutilated, and enslaved by lawless bands of men, traded for goods and services, treated as property. It’s harsh stuff to read, but the Unnamed Midwife avoids this fate by dressing as a man and battling for survival. She helps all of the women she meets by rescuing them from their slavers, offering them birth control, and assisting with births. The story follows her as she journeys from San Francisco to the North and beyond, through hell on earth and finally, to something like hope.

This book takes post-apocalyptic fiction and completely turns it into something that I haven’t seen done before. I usually hate it when these kinds of stories don’t explain things (i.e., the cause of the plague, etc) but here I didn’t mind the not knowing, because it’s the story itself that’s so much more important. The midwife is very open about her own sexuality and although (I think) she identifies as bisexual, her constant changing of gender roles through her practice of dressing as a man turns this notion on its head. Either way, I loved it.

This book is a series, and there is a second book available (“The Book of Etta”) that came out earlier this year. I ran to my library and got it a couple of hours after I finished with this. There is also a third book (“The Book of Flora”) that is set to be published early next year, which I plan to read as well.

Meg Elison is an incredible writer and this is an equally incredible book. Do read this. You won’t regret it!

Review: The Last Girl

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Review for “The Last Girl” by Joe Hart (March 2016)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Didn’t care too much for this. The premise is interesting enough–a virus has led to a dramatic decline in the numbers of female births, reducing them worldwide to zero. The remaining girls are locked away in a facility where they are bred to repopulate the earth. This isn’t a spoiler, because honestly anyone reading this could have come up with the same conclusion within 5 minutes of reading this book. Zzzz.

Zoey, the main character, is a completely unbelievable character. For a person locked in a facility for most of her existence away from normal human contact, she seems to have an excellent knowledge of weapons (okkkkay) and her shooting ability is dead-on. The author explains the progression of the girl-destroying virus through the narratives of several other characters, but you don’t care about these people and honestly about 100 pages could have been cut from this book and it wouldn’t have suffered. The science here is kind of weird too. Isn’t the sex of a baby determined by the father? Hmm…

In addition to that, this entire book is written in a funky kind of present tense that I didn’t like. Example: She reaches out, wishing she could smash the protrusion of the calendar off the wall but knows they’ll just put another one up, and an act like that would earn her time in one of the boxes. I’m all for alternative points of view, but to read an entire book where it’s written like this makes you wonder if she’s in the process of doing something, just thinking about it, or if she even did it at all.

I imagine that plot comparisons to Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and P.D. James’ “Children of Men” are inevitable here, though this book isn’t even in the same league. I am also wondering why the author insists on continuing this book as the first of a trilogy. Then again, I’m not surprised, as it seems to be trendy for all dystopian YA, whether it’s good or not these days to be part of a trilogy (Hunger Games, Divergent, the 5th Wave, etc). Whatever.

[NOTE: This copy was provided to me from the publisher and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.]