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REVIEW: the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Dear Ms. Pfeffer,

book review Your previous novel, Life As We Knew It, completely blew me away. Your vision of earth overcome by a disrupted climate affected me in a way that hasn’t happened in a very long time. And since I can’t get enough of apocalyptic settings, no matter the genre, I was beside myself when excitement when I heard you were writing a companion novel.

The premise of both Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone is deceptively simple. An asteroid crashes into the moon but instead of being the simple astronomical event previously predicted, the larger-than-expected asteroid knocks the moon out of its orbit. It doesn’t crash into earth or anything so dramatic; it just shifts the orbit closer. But sometimes the simplest things can have the most disastrous results. A closer lunar orbit means a stronger gravitational pull, which leads to tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in places where tsunamis and volcanic eruptions typically don’t occur, in addition to those places where they do.

And those are just the natural disasters. Humankind is very good at creating its own brand of disaster, and this comes in the form of widespread panic. Gas, food, and supplies are all soon at a premium and it readily becomes apparent that people become far less than civilized when survival is at stake. Not that I blame them.

the dead and the gone follows Alex Morales, a 17-year-old student who attends a New York City Catholic high school. Coming from a poor, Puerto Rican family, Alex is used to working hard for what he wants, and what he wants is to succeed. But his carefully laid plans for senior year and college are destroyed when an asteroid crashes into the moon. At first he dismisses it as an astronomical novelty and continues to do so even when news brings word of panic and the moon’s new, closer orbit. After all, he has other, more immediate, problems he needs to worry about.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t last for long. The tsunamis caused by the closer lunar orbit hit close to home. Alex loses contact with his father, who’s in Puerto Rico for his grandmother’s funeral. His mother, a nurse, has yet to come home. He’d have no specific reason to worry if it weren’t the fact his father’s small hometown is situated on the Puerto Rican coast which was devastated by tsunamis and the New York City subway tunnels flooded around the time his mother should have been on her way home. Fearing the worst, now Alex not only has to take care of himself but his two younger sisters, Brianna and Julie, as well.

As I mentioned, Life As We Knew It wowed me. Never has a book so made me want to rush out to the store to buy emergency supplies in case of a world-ending event. Even the occasional warnings and alert levels announced by the U.S. government have never done that. So you could say I went into this book with very high expectations. Maybe I shouldn’t have. In some respects, I’m a little let down.

Don’t get me wrong. the dead and the gone is a good book. I enjoyed following Alex’s trials and travails as he struggles to survive in a wrecked New York City and I liked watching how he matures through those obstacles. He has to worry about his sisters and their welfare; where their next meal is coming from; and more importantly, how they’re going to stay together and out of social services’ eye when they’re all minors. All while he tries to keep his remaining family together when hopes of his parents coming back alive begin to die.

Unlike its predecessor, however, not once did this book keep me on the edge of my seat. It might be because while the two books take place concurrently, real time has passed in between for this reader. I already know what disasters happen on a global scale. The tidal waves, the volcanic eruptions, the layer of ash blocking out the sun, the flu epidemic. I knew these things were going to happen and I think that really affected how I processed this book. It wasn’t a matter of what happens next as much as it was a matter of how are they going to deal with this.

Another difference is that while Life As We Knew It was written in diary format, the dead and the gone is written in third-person point of view. I like both perspectives equally but the third-person narrative here didn’t affect me on an emotional level like Life As We Knew It‘s diary format did. Other readers may feel differently, especially those who dislike first person point of views and epistolary formats. But for me, the third person point of view distanced me from what was happening to Alex and in the end, detracted a bit from my ultimate enjoyment of the novel.

One major difference between this book and its predecessor that I did like, however, was that unlike Miranda, Alex is the one placed in a position of responsibility and authority. Without his parents, he’s the oldest in the family. Without his father, he’s the man of the family. So while he’s always taken on leadership roles during his academic career, he learns for the first time what being a leader in the real world is really like and that sometimes you can’t have what you want because life gets in the way and you can’t do anything about it. That what makes you strong is how you cope, adapt, and continue on with your life.

Despite some similarities, I did like how we saw another side of the food handout lines (as well as the chaotic aftermath) and the flu epidemic. The urban landscape of the dead and the gone is very different from the previous novel’s rural setting and I think the differences are portrayed well and used to great effect. But I think readers who expect another Life As We Knew It might be a little disappointed. Those who haven’t read the other, however, might find Alex’s tale as harrowing and terrifying as I found Miranda’s. B

My regards,

This book can be purchased in  hardcover from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!


  1. Jan
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 12:30:26

    I also read the first book and had a very similar reaction. The book was hard to put down and a very emotional read. I hadn’t heard about the new book–thank you! I appreciate the heads up about the dead and the gone and will plan to enjoy this book on its own merits!

  2. Bonnie Dee
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 12:42:00

    Both of these books sound fantastic. Thanks for bringing them to my attention. I, too, am fascinated with post apocalyptic stories and will be sure to read both of these.

  3. Janine
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 13:24:17

    I, too, am fascinated with post apocalyptic stories

    Me three. I will have to look for Life as We Knew It.

  4. RStewie
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 13:33:43

    OH, I’m excited about this! Since they aren’t making End Of The World movies anymore, I’ll have to satisfy my thirst for chaos and death and apocalypse with books. Thank you for the head’s up! It will be nice, too, to step outside the bounds of romance for a little while, too.

  5. RStewie
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 13:35:08

    Are there any other good EOTW or apocalyptic books out there, besides these?

  6. Sherri
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 14:28:25

    Who is Miranda? I’m going to guess a character from the first book.

    I enjoy EOTW’s too, and these books sound intriguing — even if I now know numerous disasters, trials and tribulations ahead of time (I’ve noticed book reviews telling more and more details; maybe there should be a NUMEROUS DETAILS warning like they do with SPOILER warnings).

  7. Janine
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 15:12:20

    Are there any other good EOTW or apocalyptic books out there, besides these?

    I really liked Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I don’t know if it qualifies but it’s sort of similar in theme. Also, Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is a great dystopian YA novel. I reviewed it here. And the first half of Stephen King’s The Stand is also very good. I was disappointed in the second half but still recommend the book overall.

  8. Jia
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 15:36:56

    Who is Miranda? I'm going to guess a character from the first book.

    She’s the narrator of the first book, Life As We Knew It. I apologize for not making that clearer.

    I've noticed book reviews telling more and more details; maybe there should be a NUMEROUS DETAILS warning like they do with SPOILER warnings

    That’s something I struggle with a lot. I try to strike a balance between the readers who want to know nothing and the readers who want to know everything (because it’s the “everything” that helps them determine whether or not they want to read the novel in the first place), but I know I tend to err on too much information because I’m the type of reader who likes knowing details.

  9. Sherri
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 17:54:10

    Maybe the software for this blog has a spoiler plugin that makes the background and font the same color unless we highlight it, or mouse-over it. Then both sides could have as much as they wanted.

  10. Jia
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 18:00:20

    There is a spoiler code that we can use. Unfortunately, it only works on the blog. If you read the site via a newsreader, the code doesn’t translate and you will still be able to see the spoilers. There’s no perfect solution, I suppose.

  11. Karen W.
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 18:48:00

    I agree with you completely, Jia. LIFE AS WE KNEW IT was one of my favorite reads, and although it was a good read, THE DEAD & THE GONE just wasn’t a “Wow” like the first one.

  12. Miki
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 22:26:11

    Are you sure it’s available in digital format? I’m not having any luck finding it…

  13. Jia
    Jun 06, 2008 @ 05:36:40

    Are you sure it's available in digital format?

    Actually… I’m not. Jane’s the one who adds the purchasing links. There might not be a ebook format yet. I’m really not sure.

    Are there any other good EOTW or apocalyptic books out there, besides these?

    I’m fond of Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, which was epic post-apocalyptic mayhem. I second Janine’s rec for The Stand, and I had a very similar reaction to the second half as she did. And of course, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which remains a classic even though it is over 50 years old.

  14. Sherri
    Jun 06, 2008 @ 09:16:18

    Thanks, I’ve entered this series, and a few others mentioned in comments into my TBR list.

    @Jia, thanks for clarifying how spoiler text doesn’t come through feeds. When I see a review that’s intriguing, I’ll make sure to click through to the site to finish it, in case there’s any spoilers.

  15. JJ
    Jun 06, 2008 @ 11:19:01

    I read an ARC of The Dead and the Gone last December and was absolutely terrified and riveted. I actually didn’t read Life As We Knew It so Alex’s narrative scared me sleepless. On top of that, I live in New York City, which hit it home all the more. (I thought Susan Beth Pfeffer did an excellent job of portraying the city which greatly added to my estimation of the novel.)

  16. trisha
    Jul 08, 2008 @ 03:38:25

    I like both perspectives equally but the third-person narrative here didn't affect me on an emotional level like Life As We Knew It's diary format did.

    I agree. It took me a while to really get into td&tg because the third person narration felt less immediate, more distant. Then I was reading through all of Susan Beth Pfeffer’s blog entries from this year (I’d been avoiding them because I wanted to go into this book with as little advance knowledge of what would happen as possible. Well, as you pointed out, as possible as it is for someone who had already read Life As We Knew It) and she wrote that she went with third person because a first person diary-type narrative, like Miranda’s, would be unrealistic for a boy. Which makes sense to me. But perhaps because it was written in third person, the deaths that occurred hit me a lot harder than those in LAWKI. Still, I ended up really liking it, once again had the urge to stockpile supplies, and hope the publisher decides they want a third book!

  17. Rosario
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 02:38:37

    Jia, thank you for reviewing this. It made me intrigued enough to order Life As We Knew It from my library and it blew me away, too. Amazing, amazing book! I’m placing a hold on The Dead and the Gone right now.

  18. janice
    Jan 03, 2009 @ 23:03:33

    I must say that I very much enjoyed the first book LAWKI

  19. janice
    Jan 03, 2009 @ 23:37:39

    I must say that I very much enjoyed the first book life as we knew it (to agree with Jia that I too wanted to rush out to the store to buy emergency supplies, just in case). I also really enjoyed the dead and the gone and was on the edge of my seat rooting for Alex and his family to survive (always looking and hoping for a happy ending, as much as you can have in such a situation).

    My only disappointment was the insulation/isolation of Alex from what was going on around him, especially for someone who lived in New York city and is top of his class. I was hoping that he would become a little bit more savvy in surviving and asking for help earlier in the book. That aside, I was impressed by how Ms. Pfeffer tracked his movement from being a carefree young man to being forced grow up and take care of his sisters…you definitely saw his maturity (and Julie’s transformation from a spoiled little girl to being tougher and someone he could depend on).

    I could go on and on, so to end, I must thank Ms. Pfeffer for writing these books. In our current times, while we may not have this globe changing situation happen, this should hopefully show the necessity to learning needed survival skills; what to do in an emergency (major or minor) and be a bit more aware of what's happening us. Hopefully the young people reading these novels will move from this “entitlement” attitude we see more of in today's society. Thanks.

  20. REVIEW: This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 31, 2010 @ 15:00:34

    […] later wrote a companion book to LAWKI, the dead & the gone. My feelings were very mixed about that book and while I thought it was a good read, I wasn’t […]

  21. GuadiRC
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 14:53:42

    Do you think it is possible to read the second book of the trilogy (The Dead & The Gone) without having read the previous one (Life As We Knew It)? I mean, is there any red line that will cause me trouble if reading just the second? Maybe they’re kind of independent stories, at least I understood it is this way, and they can be read separately or as a trilogy. Well, I would be really grateful if could ask me this question. Nice blog, BTW ;) Xoxo.

  22. Jia
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 14:56:42

    @GuadiRC: It’s possible. The only thing missing is the mechanics of what happened. IIRC, the details of the asteroid crashing into the moon were in the first book but not so much in the second.

  23. GuadiRC
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 14:57:01

    I meant ANSWER this question, sorry :P

  24. GuadiRC
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 15:04:01

    Actually, what interests me most is how the characters go through those situations, not much the details of what happened with the asteroid, so I may read the second first. If I like it, I might read the first one later. Thank you very much!

  25. maria
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 19:32:50

    OMG these biiks are so amazing even thou im in 5 grade and you should continue into a series

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