This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Another random library shelf selection! Another success!

Set-up: This story takes place almost one year after an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it closer to earth, which causes all kinds of messes: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and a layer of ash that blocks the sun from view. Miranda’s family is just getting by, living in the sunroom of their home, with barely-there sustenance in the form of canned goods doled out by a city official.

Main character’s goals: Miranda’s biggest wish is for everything to go back to the way it was before the asteroid hit the moon. She wants a normal life. If she can’t have that, she at least relishes privacy whenever she can get it.

My reaction: I liked this book, although I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending. That’s more of a personal preference thing rather than a failing in the writing. I wanted something a little more concrete. Without giving anything more away, I will say that the ending fit well with the setting – the future is an uncertain place, especially in the world Miranda lives in.

I was totally into the raids they make on abandoned houses, scavenging for food, medicine, and toilet paper. Maybe because I’m always curious about what’s inside all the houses I pass on the street, maybe because I’m a scavenger by nature. Who knows. But it was fun to vicariously break in along with Miranda.

Also, I’m a little disappointed to find that post-apocalyptic fiction for young adults seems to be the new trend, now that sparkly vampires have fallen out of favor. That said, I really like post-apocalyptic stories, and I’ve liked them ever since reading George Stewart’s Earth Abides. So I guess I’m in luck with the wealth of post-apocalyptic fiction. Except that’s the genre I’m writing in right now, and I’d rather be creating a trend than trying to publish in an already-established one. But that is a rant for another time.

Of interest to writers: The diary format isn’t something I’ve seen in awhile…I haven’t even read an epistolary novel in a long time. Pfeffer does a good job of catching Miranda’s voice and making the diary believable.

I got total creepy vibes from one of the new additions to the family, and I felt Pfeffer could have developed that tension and conflict a little more than she did. This would have taken the story in a completely different direction, which is probably why she didn’t expand on that. If it had been my story….

Bottom line: This World We Live In is the third book in a series. (One of the downsides to random library selections is you sometimes jump into the middle – or end – of things.) I have already requested the first book from the library, because I want more from this author! I especially want to see how she handles the “beginning” of the end of the world.

Keeping Ahead of Trends in YA Lit

Weekend Writing Special

You’ve finished the first draft of your young adult manuscript. It’s new! It’s got a great hook! Nobody has done anything like this before! It’s a reality-television-show-to-the-death featuring vampire-esque aliens. You imagine literary agents begging, no, clamoring, for your manuscript. Your idea is The Newest Thing.

Until, a few weeks later as you’re hard at work on revisions, all of a sudden everyone has done this. And their books are being published Right Now. That author of Twilight (whose name I keep forgetting) does a horror reality television show novel. Suzanne Collins has something with alien-vampires. J. K. Rowling creates a Harry Potter spin-off featuring vampires who run a television series about aliens.

My personal experience with this is not nearly as extreme or ridiculous. I had this idea for a future, post-apocalyptic setting for a novel, and I dove (dived?) right in. Minutes later, I read The Hunger Games. Then The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Then, while reading Publishers Lunch from Publishers Marketplace, I found two other post-apocalyptic YA trilogies due out in a year. How can I compete with that?

I can’t. Not as far as the general idea goes. No one can. In a lot of ways, we are all tuned into the collective unconscious. We read many of the same books, watch the same movies and television shows, hear the same news stories, and on and on. My hook has to be more than “post-apocalyptic” etcetera and so forth. An intriguing story idea can do a lot…

…but an awesome character does so much more.

An author friend of mine was worried about this a few months ago, as was I. We’d just finished revisions on our manuscripts (we thought) and we were ready to embark on our new projects. “I’m thinking vampires,” she said. “But it’s been done, you know?”

I did know. I wrote one. And then I told her something I should pay attention to myself: if the characters are memorable and compelling, it doesn’t matter what the setting is, or what creatures they are. Vampires, werewolves, telepathic fairy-kin, selkies, were-amoebas. After all, we’ve read contemporary fiction featuring regular old humans for…hmmm…just about forever. Humans? Regular people? In a regular setting? How boring…not. Most of Sarah Dessen’s books feature teenage girls in the same little town in North Carolina. I’ve read every single one of them because her characters are fabulous.

So it’s not just another vampire book, or another post-apocalyptic zombie book, or another (sigh) werewolf book. It’s a real story featuring a compelling character who deals with an intriguing, gripping conflict. You don’t need to keep ahead of trends, or even worry about them, if you’re writing what you love and focusing on your own unique characters.