“The Dead and the Gone” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

07 May


Luckily, I had snagged an advance copy of "The Dead and the Gone" a few months back. Good thing, because as I mention in the review directly below this one, I loved "Life As We Knew It" and was eager to read the follow-up novel. Yay me!

Full disclosure: I assumed "The Dead and the Gone" was a direct sequel to the first book, so I was all psyched to find out what else had happened to Miranda and her family. I must've missed the fact that it's actually a "companion novel" chronicling the aftermath of the same moon-related disaster on 17 year-old New York City resident Alex Morales and his two younger sisters, the religious Briana and the bratty Julie. Having read the first book, I obviously knew exactly what was in store for the unfortunate residents of NYC, since Miranda told us all about the earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and all-around wicked climate changes caused by the asteroid strike. This knowledge, for me at least, undermined some of this story's impact. While everything was so unsuspected and thus chilling in the first novel, the second had a bit of a "been there, done that" element to it.

I also found this novel to be a bit wordier than the first one. I enjoyed Miranda's first-person perspective, as she detailed her slowly disappearing way of life in her journal. "The Dead and the Gone" is told in the third person, so while Alex's fears, stubbornness, anger, and occasional stupidity are described to us, again, the filtering lessens some of the impact. I never felt as connected to his character as I did to Miranda.

On the plus side, I thought integrating themes of religion, ethnicity, gender, and privilege into a disaster story was genius. Alex is Puerto Rican, the son of a building superintendent and an operating room technician — both of whom quickly go missing — and a scholarship student at the prestigious Catholic school DePaul. In the months following the moon disaster, life in NYC becomes truly awful. Much of Lower Manhattan has been washed away, temperatures plummet as the sun is obscured by volcanic ash, and corpses pile up in the streets or are displayed for viewing at Yankee Stadium (note: Alex's visit to Yankee Stadium is an absolutely gut-wrenching scene and one of the best I've seen in a YA novel in quite some time). Eventually Alex and a school friend, the wealthy troublemaker Kevin, must go "body shopping" (i.e., steal valuables from corpses) to purchase black market food. Even in the midst of all this chaos and horror, Alex realizes that some of his wealthier classmates are able to use their social status and connections to make their lives better. As examples, we learn that the business centers of Midtown Manhattan still have heat, electricity, and security, and special bus convoys shuttle only the children of the wealthy and powerful to the relative safety of the south.

Here, we also have a deeper discussion of why a seemingly benevolent god would inflict so much pain on people. Briana is able to maintain her strong Catholic faith throughout the tragedies that follow the moon disaster, but Alex finds it ever harder to rely on religion to get him through these dark times. Alex also questions his own actions, which are necessary for his family's survival but which frequently run counter to church doctrine. I thought this focus on both religion and social class gave "The Dead and the Gone" a weightier, almost philosophical feel than that of the first novel.

In the end, while I enjoyed the first book more, I think there's lots to like about "The Dead and the Gone." I figure fans will want to look at the moon disaster from a different perspective, and newbies can jump right in here as well. I'd recommend it to middle school readers, again in grade 7 or so and up.

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Posted by on May 7, 2008 in Uncategorized


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