"I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald's would still be open," 16-year-old Miranda says when her life suddenly takes a turn for the worse. The problems begin when a larger-than-expected asteroid hits the moon and sends it out of orbit. Tsunamis ensue, drowning Cape Cod and coastal cities, and washing the Statue of Liberty out to sea. Power goes out, gas prices go up, and food becomes scarce. Within two weeks, it's hard to remember what normal was clocks with the correct time, lights that work, access to the Internet. The death toll is incalculable along the coasts, and inland, people begin dying when food gets scarce, wells run dry and a flu epidemic hits.
Susan Beth Pfeffer opens this gripping novel with a teenager's everyday concerns: homework, tests and who's going out with whom, and darn if a lunar disaster doesn't ruin everything. Life gets gray and dingy, and even the snow isn't quite white. As time goes on, families must decide which family member must eat more and stay strong so someone will be able take care of the others as they weaken. So, what do you do when your world is dying? You reinvent the world. Miranda's mother makes all three of her children study something, even if there is no school anymore. They chop their own wood, melt snow for water, play Scrabble and even sing Christmas carols with their remaining neighbors. Readers will witness the incipient civilization that Miranda's family creates for itself.
In this dying world, Miranda develops a series of philosophies of life to cope with the harsh times. Early on, it's Why feel sorry for myself today when tomorrow's bound to be worse. Later, it's Don't let me be the last one to die. But by the end of the novel, having survived so much, Miranda says, [T]oday isn't a day to worry about the future. Whatever will happen will happen. Today is a day to celebrate. Though this is a powerful story about a freak lunar event and its consequences, it's the spirit of appreciating day-to-day life that will resonate with readers.
Dean Schneider teaches English at Ensworth School in Nashville.