Susan Beth Pfeffer wasn't getting any writing done. The author of many books for children and teens just couldn't think of anything interesting to write. And then one afternoon she watched an old movie on cable. Meteor, with Sean Connery and Natalie Wood, was a not-very-well regarded 1979 movie about an asteroid headed for the Earth. The movie didn't hold her interest, but it did start her wondering what it would be like for teenagers to live in such world-changing times. The eventual result was her YA novel, Life as We Knew It (2006), about Miranda and her family in small town Pennsylvania. An asteroid is involved, but it doesn't hit the Earth. Instead, it bumps Earth's moon, and nudges it considerably closer to Earth, which in turn affects the tides, the weather, and eventually the climate as volcanos erupt more frequently, and the sky is filled with so much ash that sunlight reaching the plants is diminished. It's hard to say that this book is enjoyable, as the topic is so grim, and Pfeffer doesn't pull any punches about hunger, lack of reliable electricity, lack of modern communication and such would do to our daily lives. It is compelling, however, and does say something about the will to survive, and the capacity of people to look out for each other.
Still, the idea didn't leave Pfeffer, and two years later she wrote a companion book The Dead and the Gone (2008) about another teen and his family coping with the same disaster, but in the middle of New York City. The problems for Alex and his sisters are a little different than those Miranda faced, and the details may be even grimmer. But still, there is good as well as evil in Alex's life, and he learns to appreciate what remains, even when so much is lost, and to continue to look to the future.
This month, a third volume in what is now being called The Last Survivors series is being published. This World We Live In brings Miranda and Alex and their families together a year after the world changed. Trying to move on with their lives, they try to discover whether it is worth the risk to become attached to people in such a dangerous world.
I'm not sure why folks like watching disaster movies, or reading about devastation, but there is something about it that attracts. Maybe we are measuring ourselves against the disaster - would we cope? Could we survive? A while back, TeenLibrarian blogged about some hurricane books. I still remember the first disaster books I read. They are pretty old now, but I might have to re-read them to see how they have held up over the years. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute is set in a post-nuclear war world. I liked it, but the one that really caught me emotionally was Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, also with a post-nuclear setting. Condominium by John D MacDonald was about a level 5 hurricane in Florida, and the descriptions felt so real to me that I remember being amazed when I stopped reading to answer the door that the sun was shining outside - it wasn't pouring down rain. By the way, I'm not sure I do have what it takes to survive when things get that tough. What about you?