Today, our pick for Sci-Fi Saturday is Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Shade of the Moon. This is the fourth book in the critically-acclaimed Last Survivor Series, and we think that it's just as excellent as its predecessors.
Sci-Fi Saturday is a rotating segment where we discuss books that will appeal to the supernatural or fantasy crowd. This segment rotates with Supernatural Saturday and Historical YA Saturday.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: August 13th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
1) This is the fourth book in Susan Beth Pfeffer's Last Survivors series.
While you don't necessarily have to read the previous three books, I would strongly advise it. You'll get a better sense of the emotional journeys that all of the characters have taken, including Jon - the main character of this novel.
2) Both Miranda and Alex - the main characters from the previous three books - feature heavily in this book, but aren't the primary characters. Pfeffer has passed the torch onto Jon, a character who was always on the peripheries of the books, now having him take center stage.
3) This book is just plain awesome. Pfeffer's been talking about The Shade of the Moon since late 2010, early 2011 on her blog - including sharing a completely different vision for the book, initially - and as a long-time fan of The Last Survivors series, I think the wait was absolutely worth it.
With that being said, let's get on to what worked/didn't work/things to consider.
Things that worked:
Even though it's been three years since we've been privy to the inner workings of the Evans family, Pfeffer's re-inroduction of them was flawless. She does an excellent job of catching the reader up to what the Evans family has experienced since the moon-crash, and their present states/locations, without making the information seem like a mass information dump.
In a nutshell, Pfeffer is a master at telling not showing.
* The creation of White Birch and Sexton
Pfeffer's established an intriguing framework of political and social questions through her creation of White Birch and Sexton.
The system of grubs/clavers/slips is far from ideal for anyone living within it, but Pfeffer does a good job of forcing readers to think about why the system has been created, andwhy the people in these two towns - especially the grubs - are going along with something that essentially relegates them to a second-class status.
The portrayals of the system are dark, bleak, but will definitely provoke readers into wondering how they would react when put into a similar situation.
For any educators or parents who may be looking to get this book for their classroom or kids, I think the concept of the White Birch/Sexton system can be connected to a lot of the current events of the day, and help students/kids understand why certain events have played out in certain ways.
However, a cautionary note: there are certain scenes where grubs are willing to do just about anything to survive. While their decisions are very true to people who are trying to survive in a devastating, harsh environment, it may be a little too graphic for younger readers.
* Jon's journey to adulthood, or how this novel is a bildungsroman.
In Life As We Knew It and This World We Live In, Jon is portrayed very much as a child who has been sheltered from the dangers of the world at large.
Even though he makes a conscious effort to help his family members out - e.g. chopping wood with Matt in TWWLI - the older members of the family still make an effort to shelter him from the harsher realities. They skip meals to make sure he gets more food; they make sure that he continues with his classes, and they prevent him from listening to the news.
So it's no wonder that by The Shade of the Moon, Jon's become a entitled brat who takes his life as a Slip inside of Sexton for granted. He's lazy, expects his domestic to do everything for him, and doesn't have any further aspirations in life.
Pfeffer does a wonderful job of showing how a series of unrelated events - e.g. the arrival of Sarah; Miranda's pregnancy; along with other more brutal, shocking moments. - provoke Jon into getting out of his comfort zone, and realizing that there is still more to learn and experience from life, than what he originally believed.
The plotting detailing Jon's growth is especially superb - including an internal struggle with events from This World We Lived In that the reader only learns about now - and eventually culminates with him making a decision that is isn't necessarily shocking, but still very sacrificial. Pfeffer's plotting is so superb, the reader can easily see Jon is now world's away from how he started the book.
I think that for educators and parents, Jon's journey is an excellent example of the bildungsroman - a coming-of-age novel. His experiences should provoke a lot of discussion and thought. However, be warned: there is a plotline that is very graphic, and may not work for younger readers.
* General writing/characterization/world-building
Pfeffer's writing, plotting and world-building are as excellent as ever.
While Jon's third-person voice isn't necessarily as personable or distinctive as Miranda's first-person voice, Pfeffer has definitely made him into a character of his own. She nails down the male voice clearly.
Pfeffer throws you into the world of Sexton/White Birch immediately. While the action for the book isn't necessarily as explosive or action-packed as other dystopians, Pfeffer intersperses the book with intriguing, challenging obstacles that propels the action forward, and will keep the reader riveted.
The book's climax is especially stark - Jon's basically forced to undergo a series of challenging obstacles that completely destabilizes his world - and Pfeffer masterfully engages readers into the action, without letting the momentum fall too much afterward.
Pfeffer's world post-moon crash, is clearly a very well-thought out one. Even without reading the first three books, the details that she includes - e.g the establishment of enclaves; the after-school jobs that have been created to keep morale up, etc. - present a very full picture of what characters like Jon and Miranda have to endure on a daily basis.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
While I loved the fact that Jon finds a partner in Sarah, I was a little concerned about how quickly it happened. It seemed like they went from meeting, to declaring their love within the span of a few several chapters.
Even though I understood why Jon and Sarah's relationship moved so quickly - they live in an post-apocalyptic environment where life is hard and moves quickly, so people are more prone to immediately banding together when they can - I do wish that Pfeffer would have also included more background on why they liked each other so much.
I didn't necessarily want extra scenes developing the relationship; I would have just been fine with an added line or two from either Jon or Sarah saying something like, "Hey, this is why I like you." Pfeffer has created two very intriguing personalities in Jon and Sarah, and I would have just loved to get into their heads more.
* The ret-conned relationship between Jon and Julie.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I was slightly saddened by what (felt like) the ret-conned relationship between Jon and Julie.
Even though Pfeffer definitely tackled Jon's anguish in a very realistic, compelling way, I was still disappointed to know that one of my favorite characters from The Dead and the Gone and This World We Live In had an ending that was even tougher than I initially realized. I also felt that the new reveal took away from the relationship that the two of them had in TWWLI.
However, with that being said, I also wouldn't have had Pfeffer do anything differently. After reflecting about it, I think Jon's actions were a stark, brutal but realistic example about how tragedy can bring out the worst in people, and made his journey to recovery all the more poignant.
I highly recommend this book for fans of dystopian YA books, who are looking for something that breaks the traditional mold. I also recommend this book for fans of Mira Grant, James Dashner.
Disclaimer: I received an arc of The Shade of the Moon from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!