Posted by: Ms. Matson | July 3, 2009

the dead & the gone

the dead & the gonethe dead and the gone
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Orlando: Harcourt, 2008
Genre: Apocalyptic fiction
Interest level: Middle grades
AR level: 4.3

From the front flap:

“When life as Alex Morales had known it changed forever, he was working behind the counter at Joey’s Pizza.  He was worried about getting elected as senior class president and making the grades to land him in a good college.  He never expected that an asteroid would hit the moon, knocking it closer in orbit to the earth and catastrophically altering the earth’s climate.

He never expected to be fighting just to stay alive.”

I requested this book from the library when I learned it was a companion to Life As We Knew It, which I loved (and reviewed here).  Whereas the former explored how a shift in the moon’s orbit affected a family in a small town, the dead & the gone tells the story as Alex experiences it in New York City.  While each story is equally harrowing and heartbreaking, the dead & the gone was not quite as gripping because I knew the flow of catastrophes.  I’m sure had I read it first and then Life, it would be the other way around.

One thing I appreciated was the way Pfeffer wove the family’s Catholic faith into the story.  It seemed fairly realistic.  Alex, Briana, and Julie each expressed their faith differently, and it affected how they dealt with calamity and tragedy.

The dead & the gone has lots of great character development and growth.  It is natural that such a disaster will force children to mature quickly.  Many authors don’t succeed at showing such growth, but Pfeffer excels.  Both Alex and his youngest sister Julie mature a great deal over the book, but it is subtle, incremental.  They learn to control their emotions.  Alex develops a patience and tolerance for Julie which he hadn’t been willing to extend at first.  Toward the end, they are both willing to make huge sacrifices to ensure the survival of their siblings.

I like that Pfeffer doesn’t shy away from real tragedy in these two books.  I don’t remember reading anything so tragic and heartbreaking when I was in middle school, but then again, I didn’t read very widely.  Pfeffer doesn’t package things nicely.  Alex and his friend Kevin go body shopping – taking things from the dead bodies in the streets of New York that can be bartered for food.  Her portrayal of catastrophic events is realistic and not sugar-coated.  True to the reading demographic, both stories end on a (small) hopeful note.

I wish I had children, students, or friends to discuss these books with.  Actually, I feel that way about most of the books that I read.  Books are meant to be digested and discussed.  Maybe that’s why I’m blogging.  Heh.  Anyway, go to the library and get the dead & the gone.  You don’t need to have read Life As We Knew It, but get that too.

Edited to add: I was just googling Susan Beth Pfeffer and discovered that there is a third book in the series due out in 2010 called This World We Live In.  Yay!  Apparently it will weave the stories of Miranda and Alex together.  I hope it sheds light on what continued life is like in the altered world.  The author has a blog which I’ve linked to on the right.



  1. Great post!

  2. […] 5M4B (Free-Range Kids)24. 5M4B (Isle of Swords)25. 5M4B (Eat My Globe)26. 5M4B (Jillian Dare)27. teachergirl (the dead & the gone)28. teachergirl (Enthusiasm)29. teachergirl (The Declaration)30. Seth H. (Relentless – Dean […]

  3. […] as We Knew It and it’s sequel, The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  They’re both excellent apocalyptic novels for the middle grades.  […]

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