Big News from Susan Beth Pfeffer!

Be sure to check out Susan Beth Pfeffer’s blog to see the recently-released cover of her newest novel, This World We Live In.  It is a follow-up to her NY Times best-selling books Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone.

Both books are always hot, hot, hot in my classroom so I can not wait to read This World We Live In. And the cover is AWESOME!

2008 Favorites

Well, the year is almost over.  That means it is time for wrap-up lists, one of my favorite parts of the year!  What are your favorite books of the year?  

Below are my favorite titles published this year:


  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I read this way back in the beginning of the year and it still stays with me. An amazing, haunting gothic tale of the fall of the south, through a young girl’s eyes. I loved it and so did my students.  In my review I said, “This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. “


  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- A more recent read, this verse novel is gorgeous. The theme of the diamond willow branch flows smoothly throughout the story and is accessible to readers of all ages. Helen Frost is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to share this with my students.


  •  Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass- I love Wendy Mass and I think this is one of her best.  It is a beautiful story with a ton of kid appeal.  Plus, it made me go out and look up more information on solar eclipses.  Plus, I haven’t seen it since I put it in my class library.  My kids absolutely love it, too!


  • Six Inningsby James Preller- I don’t even like baseball and I loved this book!  A great book to hand to boys and girls alike, it goes much deeper than just baseball and deals with life. The characters are realistic and easy to relate to. It’s just a great book all around!


  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of this series when the news first broke. Trading cards? Online games? It sounded like a lame ploy to get kids to read. But when I gave in and read the first book, at the insistence of my class, I was hooked! This is a great mystery series full of Rick Riordan’s trademark humor and realistic characters who have unrealistic lives. Needless to say, it is a huge hit in my classroom and we are all desperately awaiting the release of the third book in the series!


  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson- Our current read-aloud, my class and I love Chains! Isabelle is a complex, multi-faceted character and her conflict with the American Revolution has made us all stop and think of our fight for independence in new ways.  See my review here.


  • My Father’s Son by Terri Fields- I am a bonafide crime addict. Well, reading about crime, at least. And watching many, many episodes of “Law and Order”. So when I had the opportunity to read and review Terri Fields’ My Father’s Son, I was very excited. And the book did not disappoint! Terri has crafted a fascinating story about a boy whose father is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. I couldn’t put it down.


  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- From my review: “The Underneath is all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful, and alternately beautiful and ugly. Appelt does the almost-impossible, by threading 3 separate stories into one amazing climax that will renew your faith in goodness and love. It is an adventure, full of magic, myth, and mysticism, of sorrow, of family – of life. Woven together like an elaborate tapestry, the result is gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Our first read-aloud of the year, both of my classes absolutely loved this story.”



  • the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Susan Beth Pfeffer is single-handedly responsible for many of the voracious readers in my class. I am telling you- hand any reluctant reader a copy of the dead and the gone and they will be begging for more. The companion novel to her Life As We Knew It, takes place in NYC after a meteor has knocked the moon out of orbit. It’s absolutely terrifying, in a fantastic way!


  • What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell- This sat on my TBR pile until it was nominated for the National Book Award (which it eventually won). The nomination moved it up on the pile, as I finally learned what it was about. (The ARC had no blurb or summary!). Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. This is a gorgeous book and one I would love to see used in classrooms over the next few years!


I read about 150 books this year, as of December 26th.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Ask me again tomorrow, and you will probably get a different list!  But I would to know what your favorite novels were this year.

the dead & the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Back in January I read and reviewed Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, which scared the bejeezus out of me. The story continues to haunt me to this day and I looked forward to reading the companion novel, the dead and the gone, as soon as it was available. I was recently lucky enough to get a copy of the UK edition of the novel (aside here- why are some books published in the UK, in paperback, first?!). I didn’t read it right away, because I had to make sure I was able to handle the heavy material. Neither novel is a quick, fun read and I had to be prepared to deal with the frightening plot that I knew was in store for me.

In the dead and the gone we meet Alex Morales, a seventeen-year old high school junior who lives in New York City when the asteroid hits the moon. He is working at a pizza parlor when the asteroid hits, and because it’s cloudy out, isn’t even aware of what is happening. Like Miranda in Life As We Knew It, Alex is wrapped up in his own problems- his mom is working overtime at a hospital in Queens, Dad is at a funeral in Puerto Rico, and his older brother is deployed in the Marines. Alex is concentrating on maintaining his good grades, getting into college, and trying to look after his two younger sisters. When he gets home from work, the power is out, the cable is out, and no one is broadcasting on the radio. Days pass, and Alex and his sisters begins to realize they are alone. Except for one brief phone call from older brother Carlos, letting them know he is being deployed to Texas, and a static-filled phone call that may have been Papi from Puerto Rico, Alex and his sisters are completely abandoned. They struggle to care for each other and deal with their own emotions. Each sibling faces reality differently: Julie is an impetuous and rebellious thirteen-year old looking to her older siblings for guidance, Bri is a devout Catholic convinced Santa madre de dias will bring them a miracle, and Alex is a mature and loving older brother devoted to saving his sisters. As weeks and months pass, Alex is faced with decisions that not seventeen-year old boy should ever have to face and he deals with each one as best he can. The scene at Yankee Stadium is especially difficult to read and I had a hard time getting through it.

As in Life As We Knew It, the first few days after the asteroid hits aren’t too bad. But chaos takes hold of the city, and it’s a whole different game than out in rural Pennsylvania with Miranda. Unlike Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone deals with many class issues. Alex and his family are not rich or powerful, and do not live in a wealthy part of New York. When people begin evacuating NYC, they are permitted to leave only if they have the money or connections to do so. Alex, Bri, and Julie are left to fend for themselves.

Within only weeks, food, water, and warm clothing take the place of money and bartering is the new economy. In order to keep bringing in enough food for his sisters, Alex is forced to begin “body-shopping”, a horrible experience requiring him to steal from the fresh bodies that pile up on the streets day after day. However, he is willing to do anything he has to in order to ensure his sisters’ survival.

Throughout the novel, the Morales’ strong Catholic faith is what keeps them going. Though Bri is especially devout (Mami hoped she would have a vocation), all three children attend Catholic school and Mass every Sunday in normal times. Their faith and the faith of their religious leaders helps them survive in more ways than they ever would have thought possible. However, at times their faith is also their downfall.

the dead and the gone is a gripping, haunting, heartbreaking story that is all too realistic. The New York setting allows Pfeffer to tell the same story as she did in Life As We Knew It, but in a drastically different way. While reader of LAWKI will recognize many of the same effects of the asteroid as they saw in LAWKI, the outcome is very different in the tri-state area. This companion novel would be a frightening read on its own, and readers could certainly read it as a stand-alone novel. However, paired with Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone is absolutely gripping- the harrowing parallel stories of Miranda and Alex will have you making an emergency plan and stocking up on canned goods.

Possible Idea?

In her comment here, author, blogger, and fellow teacher Kate Messner has given me a fantastic idea for my survival-themed unit at the beginning of the year. How cool would it be to have half the class read Life As We Knew It and the other half read the dead and the gone?  I can imagine how this would start off the year-  “Life As We Knew It” scared the bejeezus out of me and I am sure “the dead and the gone” will do the same.  See, now I have a good excuse for an ARC!  I want to read it and then get it approved by the district so that I can use it first thing next year.  😉

Seriously though, how cool would that be?  “Life As We Knew It” is getting raves from my kids this year, boys and girls alike.  I think this would be a fantastic way to kick off the year!

Life As We Knew It

I started hearing rumblings about Susan Beth Pfeffer’s The Dead & Gone a few weeks ago. When I read the premise of the novel I realized it was a companion to Life As We Knew It and soon ordered a copy from Scholastic. As a fan of science-fiction, I thought it sounded like a novel I would enjoy.

I began reading Life As We Knew It 3-4 days ago. Though it is not a long book, I could not rush through it. The story arc forced me to put the book down hours before I went to bed, for fear that I would have nightmares. The story is haunting and frighteningly realistic. Worst of all, it seems entirely possible. There were times I just could not bear to read any more.

Miranda is your average high school sophomore, with average teenage problems- her grades, friend problems, and anger at her divorced parents for favoring her brothers. She hardly thinks that the asteroid predicted to hit the moon is worth a mention in her journal, but everyone else disagrees. Her teachers are treating this as a historic event, and assigning homework of historic proportions to help their students appreciate it. The story, told through Miranda’s journal entries, captures life as she knows it. She barely mentions the asteroid, unless it is to complain about how it seems to be taking over people’s lives and inconveniencing hers. However, the asteroid becomes extremely important when it does crash into the moon, knocking it out of orbit.

It turns out that the scientists miscalculated the impact and the entire world is thrown into chaos. Miranda (and the rest of the world) never considered how much of our world is controlled by the moon’s gravitational pull. The tides, earthquakes, and even volcanoes are affected by the moon’s new orbit. Tsunamis destroy the coasts, volcanoes are erupting, disease and rioting begin to spread. Life as Miranda knew it is over. Suddenly, just surviving is a daily struggle. No electricity, a major food shortage, and rampant disease are just a few of the problems that Miranda records in her journal. The story is fascinating and completely pulls the reader in, keeping their heart racing throughout the novel.

I am still getting goosebumps, even after finishing Pfeffer’s book. It is, without a doubt, one of the most frightening books I have ever read. It all seems so real and all too possible. I can’t wait to read the companion novel, the dead and the gone.