Monday, August 12, 2013

On the Dark Side: The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

"They used their belts for a noose," Mrs. Brunswick said. "They told Laura to say her prayers... Then they used her for target practice."

Mrs. Brunswick was sobbing. "They said they'd kill our children if she wasn't still there when they came back. I'm so sorry, Jon....  There's a back door," she said, " might be easier for you."

But when he left the school office Jon went out the front door. They wanted people to see Mom. They wanted people to understand what they were capable of doing.

Jon stood still beside his mother's body. He wanted to take her home, back to Pennsylvania, back to life as it had been. He wanted Mom to see the sun again, to see the grandchild she'd been so eagerly awaiting. He wanted to kill.

Four years have passed since a meteor strike on the moon changed life on earth. Billions have died from the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and ashen clouds that blocked most of the sun's light. The earth is vastly changed, but human nature, freed from the social conventions so laboriously worked out over millennia of human life, sadly has not. A much different United States endures, but limited to an oligarchy of enclaves of the privileged,the clavers, surrounded by subject workers, grubs, who provide the manual labor to sustain these small communities.

Jon is living with his stepmother Lisa and his little half-brother inside an enclave in Tennessee called Sexton, while his mother Laura lives with his sister Miranda and her husband Alex, living in the nearby grub town of White Birch. Jon is a "slip," admitted by a suspect pass to the better-fed claver community, with the help of Lisa's administrative position and his place as a star soccer player on Sexton's high school team. Even sport is seen as a way to humiliate grubs and keep them in a subordinate position, and Jon's coach demands that they overwhelm the grub teams they play to keep them in their place. When Jon meets the newly arrived Sarah, a transfer with her doctor father from another enclave, his teammates force him to choose between them and her, and aware of his tentative position within the enclave, he reluctantly sides with them. Still Sarah and Jon contrive ways to meet secretly and form a bond of closeness that reflects their inner disapproval of the social inequity of their position.

When the grubber White Birch team seems to be winning their match, a riot begins in the stands which spreads throughout the town as a grub revolt, brutally subdued after several days by the clavers' overwhelming force. Jon's mother is cruelly murdered trying to reach the school where she teaches, and when Jon discovers that his sister's baby has been stolen, under a pretense that it was born deformed and died soon after birth, Sarah comes up with a tenuous plan to take the baby from its adoptive parents and flee Sexton for a refuge with Jon's brother Matt, several hundred miles away. Jon has to make a moral choice, whether to leave his privileged but uncertain position as a claver, or take his chances rescuing his sister's child and trying to survive in the countryside on their own.

In the fourth book of her post-apocalyptic series, The Shade of the Moon: Life As We Knew It Series, Book 4 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) Susan Beth Pfeffer takes on the moral dilemmas resulting from such a chain of events, disasters so overwhelming that humans fall back on a primitive and unequal society, at first in order to survive, but soon as a means to preserve power for the few. Whether or not our society would so quickly revert to oligarchy, Pfeffer's story deals frankly with the ethical choices that such a conceivable society would mean for earth's survivors. For those who have read her powerful, best-selling first book, Life As We Knew It: Life As We Knew It Series, Book 1 this story, albeit with some questionable twists of plot, will be a must-read new novel for young adult readers, especially those who value the insights found in dystopian fiction. Booklist says, "Pfeffer's well-written take on what life might be as it returns to 'normal' is sometimes brutal and always depressingly real."

In addition to her popular first book, earlier books in this series are The Dead and the Gone, Book 2) and This World We Live In: Life As We Knew It Series, Book 3.

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