Monday, February 9, 2009

You will never look at a full moon in quite the same way

I continue my pending mode ... awaiting Odyssey submissions ... the book that's in my ears right now is a [wait for it] book for adults! (I'm blushing.) Before I sent my crates of audiobooks off to storage so they can become library giveaways, I snatched a couple that were on my reading/listening list: Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Dead and the Gone was one of these. I do love that looming moon (except that it scares me to death at the same time).

This book is a companion to Life as We Knew It, which I enjoyed tremendously in both audio and print, and Selected Audiobooks put on its 2008 list. In the second novel, the same life-altering events occur, and we see the impact of them on a Puerto Rican family on Manhattan's Upper West Side (my old neighborhood). Alex Morales is an ambitious 17-year-old, finishing up his junior year at the Vincent dePaul school. He's thinking about whether he -- a scholarship boy whose father is the resident janitor at an apartment building -- could be elected senior class president. On the night that the asteroid slams into the moon, his Mami was headed to her hospital job in Queens and his Papi was in a small coastal town in Puerto Rico burying his grandmother. Neither of them is seen again, forcing Alex to see to the welfare and survival of his two younger sisters.

The climatic events affect New York City as much as they did in rural Pennsylvania and Alex and his sisters must fight starvation, illness and extreme temperatures. The Morales have a strong Catholic faith that colors their survival; this story is a lot more gruesome than the first one ... as living in the city is a more brutal experience than living in rural Pennsylvania.

Like Life as We Knew It (or LAWKI as the author shortens it), this story is riveting. Its plausibility (at least to me) is terrifying, and it brings up so many personal questions for me (what would Portland be like, would I try to relocate, what would happen to my elderly parents, do I have enough toilet paper, etc.). If I found Alex's isolation to be a bit of a stretch -- how could he live in a 12+-story apartment building and not have any contact with any of the residents in the weeks after the event? ... Wouldn't his father have had keys to all the apartments? -- that was OK. I was still deeply caught up in his survival story, even though I was pretty confident of its ending (the story follows much the same arc as LAWKI). His bickering relationship with his sisters was spot on, as the three of them are cooped up together on the edge of starvation with nothing to do.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed the narration as much as I did of the earlier volume, but it just didn't measure up. Robertson Dean reads in a low register that resonated escalating terror, but in voicing the three teenagers he would bring his voice up into a higher, fake-sounding register that grated. As with other adult readers of books for children and teens, he seemed more comfortable with his adult characters. I was also surprised not to hear any Puerto Rican inflections in the Morales's voices. They shouldn't be speaking in Spanish-accented English, but there is a vocal delivery that indicates their background. When Dean read the occasional Spanish phrases that occurred in the text (mostly in a religious context), he sounded, well, like a native English speaker reading Spanish.

I read on Pfeffer's blog that she's well into writing a third novel in this series, one where Miranda of LAWKI and Alex meet. On first thought, this seems contrived to me, but I'll wait to read it before pronouncing judgment.

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