I wish I had never read the Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I loved her first book, Life As We Knew It. In fact, I would argue it is one of the most terrifying apocalyptic novels I have ever read. People who are familiar with it might not get that. After all, unlike many other apocalyptic novels I have read, there aren’t any starving people going cannibal, any escaped criminals raping and pillaging, and there isn’t any rise of some freaky weird new religious cult in reaction to the event. It was simply a book about a normal family trying to survive. What’s so scary about that? Well it was incredibly believable and the characters and lives were so relatable, it was something that made you go, “crap, this could happen.” So while there wasn’t a lot of action, I found the slow torture of their struggle to survive each day excruciatingly painful, in that, ‘hurts so good’ way.
So my first issue with Shade of the Moon was that Miranda, Matt, and Mom were not the central characters. I had so much respect for these three and instead the story was focused on Jon, the spoiled little brother whom they all sacrificed everything to save. How this little butthead could even come from the same gene pool boggles my mind. His big sis was willing to sacrifice her life for him, and his biggest sacrifice is making his own breakfast. You see little Jonny now lives as a slip in an enclave, while the rest of his family lives in cold, roach infested dwellings in the slums doing manual labor while Jon attends school and plays soccer, more on the latter in a bit.
When the food shipments stop coming, Miranda, Matt, Laura, Lisa, Gabe, Alex, Julie, etc. hit the road to find an enclave. Along the way, both Julie and Miranda’s Dad died. The former’s death resulted in Jon being able to use her pass to get a place in the enclave, while the rest had to live in the ghetto of White Birch.
This ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ in the story setup was so ridiculous. Yes, the people in the enclave have more food and air purifying machines, so they are healthier, but the people in the ghetto outnumber them and have passion of rage on their side, they could just overthrow this one-sided society, so I never got why they didn’t. The people in the ghetto were tough enough to survive the initial days of the meteor; it’s not a stretch that they would be tough enough to rebel….
Another thing that drove me crazy about this book is that when no one drives cars anymore, and many people don’t have enough to eat, that Jon’s soccer team drives all around the state to compete against other communities. Would gas be rationed for emergencies? I don’t see a bus full of soccer kids as an emergency. It seemed to me that Susan Beth Pfeffer inserted this ridiculous detail just to have a way for Jon to be mobile in the action of the story and to set up the big showdown scene. This book was like Pretty in Pink melded with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. What a clash! Actually the rich enclave kids versus the ‘grubs’ of the ghetto were also reminiscent of The Outsiders, with Sarah in the Diane Lane role of the girl from the right side of the tracks sympathizing with the greasers/grubs. The contrast of normal teen drama against the backdrop of survival just made me queasy. I don’t think even the most fatuous teen in these circumstances would be so immature, petty, and unaware, not when four short years ago they all watched family, friends, or neighbors day.
Even when Jon ‘sees the light’, he is still such a punk, that I wished he had died back in the Pennsylvania house. It’s really hard to like a book when you loathe the main character.