The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 26, 2007

Book review: Diary entries recount changes to 'Life as We Knew It'

‘Life as We Knew It’

By Susan Beth Pfeffer (Young adult fiction)

Sixteen-year-old Miranda’s diary entries reflect the concerns of a typical teenager — fights with her mom, anxiety about her friends, and a yearning to get her driver’s license.

When a news bulletin announces that a meteor is going to hit the moon, she barely gives it a second thought, thinking it is merely another opportunity for her teachers to assign extra homework. But as her family, friends and neighbors watch the impact from their lawn chairs, she realizes that something has gone awry. The moon is knocked closer to Earth, and soon things go from frightening to life-changing.

The collision sets off a chain of horrific events — tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and millions of deaths. Thanks to her mother’s quick thinking, Miranda’s family is better off than most, but as supermarkets run out of food, gas prices skyrocket, utilities are lost and school is closed indefinitely, she realizes that scientists made a huge miscalculation and her family is in grave danger.

Pfeffer uses Miranda’s diary entries to tell the story, and this keeps the focus on her family. The characters are memorable and the feelings of despair, hopelessness and fear are genuine. Readers will not be able to stop thinking about this story of struggle, and ultimately, survival.

‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’

By Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (Adult nonfiction)

Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven Hopp, and their two daughters, Camille and Lily, made a commitment to eat only locally grown food for one year, and this is their personal account of that year.

To kick-off their venture, they pack their belongings, make a pit stop at the gas station to load up on “things that go crunch,” and are on their way from Tucson, Ariz., to a farm in Virginia that Steven has owned for 20 years. Upon arriving in Southern Appalachia, they get busy planting a garden, raising turkeys, and 9-year-old Lily starts her own heritage poultry business. The Kingsolver family is well versed in gardening and raising poultry, but this is a new venture, and one that Barbara refers to as a process, meaning they are still outlining the boundaries.

Throughout the book, Hopp writes scientific sidebars that enhance Kingsolver’s account. His first piece — entitled “Oily Food” — provides startling statistics about how Americans are “consuming about 400 gallons of oil per year per citizen” and how “if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” His pieces are short, to the point and provide startling background information. Nineteen-year-old Camille provides recipes and weekly meal plans based on what is in season.

This book will make you think about the foods you are consuming and question why we support a system that is intrinsically flawed. Kingsolver and her family understand that the average person cannot pack their belongings, move to a farm and grow all their own food; but they also know that most people have access to locally grown foods like those found at farmers’ markets and they encourage you to seek out locally grown food options.

Kingsolver’s narrative is beautiful, entertaining and not at all snobby. You will not want to miss the chapters on the lost art of turkey sex and how to hide zucchini in chocolate-chip cookies. It’s an incredible celebration of food!

Jeana Gockley is the children’s librarian at Joplin Public Library.