2 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The Shade of the MoonTitle: The Shade of the Moon

Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Genre: Dystopia, Post-Apocalypse, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 2013
Hardcover: 304 Pages

The eagerly awaited addition to the series begun with the New York Times best-seller Life As We Knew It, in which a meteor knocks the moon off its orbit and the world changes forever.

It’s been more than two years since Jon Evans and his family left Pennsylvania, hoping to find a safe place to live, yet Jon remains haunted by the deaths of those he loved. His prowess on a soccer field has guaranteed him a home in a well-protected enclave. But Jon is painfully aware that a missed goal, a careless word, even falling in love, can put his life and the lives of his mother, his sister Miranda, and her husband, Alex, in jeopardy. Can Jon risk doing what is right in a world gone so terribly wrong?

Stand alone or series: Book 4 in the Moon Crush/Last Survivors/Life As We Knew It series

How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher (at BEA)

Format (e- or p-): Print

Why did I read this book: Life As We Knew It and This World We Live In are two of my all-time favorite apocalypse novels – bleak, harrowing, but with an undeniable thread of hope. I was disappointed with book 3, This World We Live In, but hopeful that The Shade of the Moon would get our characters back on track…


Let me preface this review by saying this: I’ve read three books about the apocalypse this week. One is set hundreds of years after an asteroid annihilates Earth (Starglass by Phoebe North), one is set six months before an extinction-event sized asteroid hits earth (The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters), and, finally, this one, set four years after an asteroid has crashed into the moon, changing it’s orbit such that it is much closer to the Earth. One of these books was good, one was superb, and one was very bad indeed.

Unfortunately, The Shade of the Moon is the very bad book.

Back to the review now:

It is four years after the unthinkable has happened, and civilization as it used to exist came crashing down. An asteroid collides into the moon’s surface, pushing its orbit closer to the Earth and unleashing catastrophe in its wake. Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions come first, followed by dramatic climate change, starvation, and global pandemics. In the four years since those early terrible days, humanity has rearranged itself into a new type of order – the rich, powerful, and lucky make their way into enclaves, where they are given food, electricity, air filters, education, and a chance at a real future. Everyone else, however, is left outside the enclaves, struggling to find ways to work, eat, and survive day to day.

Jon Evans is one of the very lucky – thanks to a pass given to him by chance and the sacrifices of his family, Jon becomes a “claver” in the enclave of Sexton. With his stepmother Lisa and half-brother Gabe, Jon has lived his last four years in relative luxury – going to school every day, working hard at his soccer game, eating fresh vegetables and square meals. Meanwhile, his mother, sister Miranda and brother-in-law Alex are “grubs” stuck outside the enclave in the equivalent of a shantytown – working hard labor jobs in order to survive. As tensions mount between the clavers and the grubs, Jon finds himself caught in the middle, torn between loyalty to his family, and a chance at the good life in the enclaves.

I’m flummoxed when it comes to this fourth installment in the Last Survivors/Moon Crush/LAWKI series. I love dark books, including gritty “realistic” reads. I appreciate it when authors craft unlikable main characters, and challenge preconceived notions of “good” and “bad” – especially in YA speculative fiction. What I do not love, however, are books that are gratuitous or hateful for the sake of shock value; I am not a fan of “darkness” without purpose. I do not appreciate it when a would-be rapist main character does not learn from his actions and is painted in a sympathetic light to readers. I do not like any of these things in any arena; it is all the more disheartening to read when it happens in a series I used to love.

I will lay it out simply: The Shade of the Moon left a bad taste in my mouth.

This is a book about a spoiled, entitled, and wholly un-likable main character. Jon’s family – including the two main characters we’ve met and loved in the first books of the series – has sacrificed everything to give this young man a chance at a normal, healthy life. In return, Jon is a bigoted asshole, more concerned about his own well-being than helping his family. He’s too important for his stepmother and his toddler half-brother; he hides behind excuses and is content to go with the flow instead of taking a stand.

On the one hand, I appreciate Susan Beth Pfeffer’s creation of such an utterly shitty character – that takes guts, and I’m not opposed to unlikable protagonists. That said, what kills me about Jon is how he is painted in a sympathetic light to the readers.

SPOILERS AND TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE (as well as liberal amounts of CAPS LOCKING and swearing) FOLLOW:

On top of all his other wonderful qualities, Jon is also a would-be/almost rapist. You see, there’s some major retroactive storytelling that happens in The Shade of the Moon – right before Julie’s death (thanks to the tornado and her ensuing paralysis), it turns out that Jon tries to force himself on Julie. You see, Jon is nearly 15 years old at this point, and he thinks that he is in love with Julie, and he tells her he loves her, which, in Jon’s head, should make Julie HIS. When Julie resists, he doesn’t stop and continues to force himself – his thirty pounds of extra weight and extra height – on the smaller, younger (13!!!!) girl. Julie miraculously fights him, and gets away – but terrified, she runs outside of the barn in which they are holed up, as she’d rather throw herself into the path of a tornado than be raped by her so-called friend. And this is Jon’s thought process as he recounts this:

He thought about that day harder than he ever had before. Yes, he’d wanted Julie. He was a teenage boy and she was a teenage girl, and that was the nature of things. If Julie hadn’t been so religious, or more to the point, if she hadn’t been so scared of Alex, who was so religious, she would have had no reservations about making love. It had been their last chance, probably the last time they’d ever see each other.

Jon knew now he’d pushed too hard, and he understood why Julie had panicked. But panic was an irrational response. Julie knew him and loved him and should have understood that he would never hurt her. But her fear of Alex was stronger than her love of Jon.

Now, if this was merely an insight into Jon’s mindset, leading to some kind of challenge to this utterly fucked up way of justifying his actions, that’s one thing.

But… it’s not. Jon’s bullshit rationalizations – well, it was HER fault for being too religious and scared, I wouldn’t have hurt her, silly irrational girl – are never challenged. In realtime during the book, Jon meets and falls in love with a new girl named Sarah (after a chapter, mind you) who also loves him back. Apparently. And Jon tries to push Sarah away to save her from another enclave boy’s rage by telling Sarah the story of Julie and PRETENDING TO WANT TO RAPE SARAH so she leaves him… BUT THEN Sarah learns that he didn’t REALLY rape Julie and he was just pretending to try to rape Sarah for her own protection (*CUE VOMIT*) and just like that, Sarah is all back in Jon’s arms and in love.


Need I say more? OK, why don’t I touch on the treatment of the other female characters. There’s Miranda, the protagonist from book 1, who is given a minor role here and basically is defined as Pregnant Mother (she’s also 19-21 TOPS at this point). Girls are routinely raped by the “claver” boys (apparently). One of the domestic workers in the main character’s house at one point goes up to Jon’s room, calls him “Mr. Jon” and says she wants to show her appreciation in a special way, if you catch my drift.


There’s also the gratuitous murder of Miranda and Jon’s mother – whom we’ve also loved over the course of the series – in the worst possible way. The suicide of Jon’s stepmother. The repeated allusions to further rapes and murders of women. There’s the unbelievable worldbuilding, the laughable rapey “romance.”

ALL of this is to say… what is the fucking point? There is so much death, so much bleakness without purpose, such shitty treatment of characters or continuity with the early books, that I can’t even express my disappointment and outrage.

There is nothing that can redeem this book or this series for me, and unfortunately, knowing how poorly Miranda and Alex are treated in these subsequent books has tainted my love of the first two novels. And… that’s all I have to say about that. I will not be back for any future books in this series.

Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read an excerpt of the first 12 pages of the book HERE.

Rating: 2 – Terrible

Reading Next: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

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  • Regina
    August 15, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Really good review! And I thank you for it as it saves me time. I got the ARC for this book but did not download it in time, I think I will stop being sad about that right now. Was Starglass the superb novel? I loved that one.

    I am frankly shocked that Jon would turn out that way. I don’t know what Ms. Pfeffer is saying about women and society if as soon as it develoves rape becomes the norm. I am just so shocked by the developments and disappointed. I will say that I had issues with books 2 and 3, but I never expected this. I will not be reading it!

  • Allison (Allure of Books)
    August 15, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    My thoughts aligned with yours on the original trilogy – Very impressed by the first two and very let down with the third. Thanks to this review, WILL NOT be picking up the fourth!

  • de Pizan
    August 15, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Although I liked the first book, I did not at all like the 2nd and 3rd book. I though Alex was a complete jerk and sexist, and hated the story from his point of view. And then although Miranda started out whiny and self-centered, what I had liked is that she had grown and was more mature over the course of the 1st book; however in the 3rd book, it felt like she had completely regressed and seemed far more immature and self-centered then when the series started. Sounds like the new book takes everything I disliked in the series to the extreme.

  • Kate Karyus Quinn
    August 15, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Oh man, I saw the 2 rating at the top of this review and thought, “Noooo”. Then I hoped that maybe I’d read the review and it would be one of those times when a bad review makes me want to read the book even more. Unfortunately, instead, I will most likely avoid this book. I LOVED book 1 and to this day still recommend it to everyone I can and recall it whenever I read anything even a little bit similar (most recently IN THE AFTER by Demitria Lunetta and NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis). For Book 2 I missed Miranda, but eventually got on board for the story of Alex and his family. And in book 3 I really enjoyed how all the characters came together… even if I was a little disappointed by some of the developments towards the end of the book. I so badly wanted a book 4 and when I heard it was coming, could not have been happier… until I heard it was about Jon. Damn it, I wanted more Miranda. And NOW, urgh. For something I love, I can overlook a lot, but the retroactive rape of Julie is NOT one of those things. Maybe I will re-read the first 3 instead.

  • AnimeJune
    August 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Holy crap. That book sounds awful.

    And I’m right with you on the challenging part – it’s fine for the novel to have troubled, flawed, wrong-headed characters, so long as the larger narrative establishes that they are wrong in some way. But when the novel supports it? Gross.

  • Seainni
    August 15, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I loved the first book, but there’s been this building thread through the first three books that a woman isn’t safe alone, women can’t go out alone to do needed work the way men can, and so on … that never made sense to me. Miranda’s mother, especially, shelters her in ways she didn’t shelter her brothers, and it made no sense.

    Possibly the reason for it was this, the assumption never spoken but taken for granted that a woman alone -will- get raped?

    I had issues with consent from an entirely different direction in book 3 (specifically, Miranda taking certain actions without Julie’s consent). I think I shall skip this one and continue to pretend book 1 was a lovely standalone book that, sadly, never had any sequels.

  • Sarah
    August 15, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Oh no. I have been looking forward to this book possibly more than any other this year. I loved the first two books, and found the third just about passable. I was holding off on getting this one because I’d seen some negative reviews and the premise seemed to abandon the realism of the first books. I definitely won’t be reading it now.

  • Susan
    August 16, 2013 at 12:33 am

    I loved the first book, and wondered how the other ones were. I think I’ll stick with the first one and re-read it! I like the characters from it. I often find myself thinking of them, and how they got through that year, it was so vividly done in the book. Thanks for the excellent review and the warning that it’s not as good as the first two.

  • Virginia
    August 16, 2013 at 2:17 am


    Ok, not to go all Claire Messud on you (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/05/would-you-want-to-be-friends-with-humbert-humbert-a-forum-on-likeability.html) and say we’re not reading the book because we want to be best friends with the main character, but I’ll probably still pick up the book.
    I’m NOT a fan of bleakness and darkness, but if I can stand book 3, and still walked away feeling as if it was a beautiful written book, then I’ll probably give this one a chance.
    Whether the character’s douche-ness is challenged does not mean it’s painted in a sympathetic light. Because the new girlfriend thinks his reasoning makes sense doesn’t mean that we, as readers, need to agree with her.
    Some day I get in the mood where I need a book to prove to me that human beings are inherently evil. This looks like one of those books for one of those days.

  • Mandy Boles
    August 16, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Just reading about this one makes me furious. The series sounded like something I’d like when I initially heard about it, but now I know to sty away lest I want steam coming out of my ears.

  • Noemy
    August 16, 2013 at 4:58 am

    oh no. I was so excited to start reading this book as Life as we knew it is an all-time favorite of mine. After reading your review though I just can’t bring myself to pick it up anymore. I actually didn’t like Jon all that much in the previous books and knowing now what he’s become I think I would just rather remember him the way he was in Book 1 and 3 and just live it as that. Same goes for Miranda and her mom. I wonder why Susan Beth Pfeffer decided to write such a depressing ending…I would have preferred to part ways with the characters on a hopeful note. I know that life’s not all flowers and rainbows of course, but I want to believe that some people could still get through it…

  • KT Grant
    August 16, 2013 at 6:33 am

    And yet the publisher had no qualms about publishing this book with a young boy who almost resorts to rape to get what he wants. Also, what was the author thinking about making her so called hero a rapist, especially if this is considered to be a “romance” in the sense the guy gets the girl when all is said and done? If this is a romance, I’m sorry, you can’t have the hero, regardless of the situation, be an abusive, consorts to almost raping a 13 year old girl because he loves her.

  • Jan
    August 16, 2013 at 9:02 am

    I also loved book 1 in this series and have book talked it since it came out to kids as young as 5th grade. Books 2 and 3 did not “reach me” although they were on my library shelves. And book 4 – what KT Grant said. Would the author want her 5th grade fans to read this book in her series? I sometimes wonder what the author and editors are thinking.

  • Jane
    August 16, 2013 at 9:39 am

    It doesn’t even sound like these books are written by the same author.

  • Gerd D.
    August 16, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Rating 2: Terrible… wow, aren’t I’m glad now I never got round to pick up that series.

    I don’t remember sexualised violence being so often, openly and worst of all insensitively used in YA in my days.
    And I can’t help but wonder what message it sends out to young readers seeing rape being treated as “just the way things are”. The constant reiteration of “men are sexually aggressive, it’s just how they are wired”.

    @Virginia: No, we do not have to like the protagonist of a novel, but if his actions aren’t challenged in the slightest, if even more so the very same character actions are kind of redeemed, even shown as gallantry by pretending, and always keep in mind that to my understanding these books are aimed at young adults, at readers that are still in the process of forming their moral values, these actions must, at the very least, seem “acceptable”.

    @KT Grant: _Thinks_ he loves her, should be the operative word here.
    Although, it is unfortunately so that we can encounter in every genre these days the “Lust = Love” message. The sheer number of characters, most of all the ever increasing number of characters in YA lit that are sold to us as being in love solely because they lust after someone, is simply stunning.

  • Serenity
    August 16, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I definitely still want to read the first two books (is the third worth picking up?), but I hate reading an incomplete series. If I stop reading after the second or third book, will there be an unresolved ending or lots of unanswered questions?

  • Sarah
    August 23, 2013 at 10:57 am

    YES. Like you, I really loved both the first two books, and wish they had been left as companion novels without the over the top coincidences and drama that was overlaid onto the third book. (Clearly things get even more out of control in book 4, I won’t be reading it). And it’s disappointing – because what I found so terrifying and well done about the first two books was how quietly plausible they were, the way things shifted in small ways until life had totally changed. But the third book (and, it seems, the fourth, with these enclaves), tips into more traditional dystopia territory where it’s no longer rooted in potential reality and more about random stuff from different stories coming together and gruesome deaths.

  • Maria
    January 22, 2014 at 2:37 am

    Thank you SO MUCH for this review. Just finished book 1, and I wasn’t impressed by the writing (the concept had me flipping pages). I looked up books 2 & 3, and I was on the fence, until I stumbled upon your review. What a waste of words and paper to write such a horrible character. Sorry you had to suffer through that, but it definitely wasn’t in vain.

  • Anonymous
    March 26, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I think ill read it for one reason; I love Alex. Hes the character I most empaphised with and I felt like crying when he cried. I love the series so I will finish it. Jon sounds like a complete ass.

  • Anonymous
    April 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Thank you so much for this review! I will not be reading this book! Its really a shame actually, I loved the first two books. I fell in love with both Miranda and Alex as narrators. I am outraged that a mediocre third book (the beginning was great, I hated the ending for multiple reasons) and what sounds like a terrible fourth book could destroy a series I had so much faith in.

  • eboland2@gmail.com
    April 9, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this review! I will not be reading this book! Its really a shame actually, I loved the first two books. I fell in love with both Miranda and Alex as narrators. I am outraged that a mediocre third book (the beginning was great, I hated the ending for multiple reasons) and what sounds like a terrible fourth book could destroy a series I had so much faith in.

  • hezz
    April 17, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Alex should kick jons ass.

  • Lauren
    September 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I wish I had seen your review before I just wasted four hours of my life reading that book! (which is definitely more time than was spent writing it). I’m still torn if I’m more disgusted with the entirely implausible world building or the entirely implausible plot within that world. And of course, other than the inconsistent main character, the other characters lacked any depth whatsoever (even calling them stereotypes would be an overstatement). I am dumbfounded that this is the same author who wrote the first book in the series. I think your “2” rating was exceedingly generous.

  • Anonymous
    October 29, 2014 at 12:32 am

    Ah damn it. I loved the first two books and was looking forward to get the others.
    I have a feeling the author let herself go with the current “rape is love” and “super dark dystopia of darkness” trends. Hopefully she’ll get back in shape with the next one.

  • LJP
    November 14, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Good review but that’s your point of view. I haven’t read the 4th book and still want to. You asked what was her point in this book and according to your review, the point of this book is that no matter how bad life gets humans will be humans and just because they’re going thru tragic times people don’t always change their ways for the better..

  • AJ
    January 2, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Completely agree with your review! Wish I had seen it before I wasted my time on the 4th book. The worst part for me was the killing of the mother who was absolutely my favorite character in the series. It was so unnecessary and and then Lisa killing herself too? The book was just plain ridiculous after that point. So sad because I loved the first book never read the second and thought the third was just OK. The series regresses in likeability.

  • NerdyBookGirl
    March 27, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Well. If I’d read this review first, it could have saved my bifocaled eyes some strain. I hate getting suckered into a series to begin with but I said, okay, I work in a library, I need to READ some things so I can make recommendations. I kept reading book four, hoping to get to a point where things began to make a little sense, but no. How disappointing! I’m not going to complain about the writing, but to get to the end of the book expecting more (in a bad way) and there isn’t any? Sigh. I mostly found the fact that everyone was so very quick to take on the Master/Slave mentality extremely disturbing. Clavers and Grubs. Us and Them. That makes it insanely easy to dehumanize people and capitalize on that fact just to make a good story. Alright, that said, was the author medicated while writing this? It was like PT Barnum getting people to pay money for “This Way to the Egress”. So glad all I did was borrow the book and NOT pay for it. I guess we all have off days/weeks/months/YEARS and so do authors.

  • JB
    July 13, 2015 at 1:10 am

    Your review was spot on and I’m glad I found someone who shares the same feelings I do about the book. I really had high hopes for this book and wanted to finish the series since I fell in love with Book 1. However the series ending in this manner was nothing more than… disappointing to say the least. My biggest pet peeves with this book was first, the unnecessary creation of the class system that everybody just fell into. It seemed as though everybody had already forgotten life before the meteor and quickly took to seperating people as haves and have nots. My second and largest pet peeve was the gruelsome, horrific, and unnecessary death of Laura. Laura was a character I had came to love in the series ( she was the mom that everyone couldn’t help but love) and for her to just be killed off and killed in such a horrible way almost forced me to not finish this book. A sad ending to what could have been an epic comeback and ending.

  • Anonymous
    November 2, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I love the first book, its my favorite book and the only way that I got to read the rest was because I loved the first one and I couldn’t wait to read the rest of the following book hope it continue

  • Lili
    November 17, 2015 at 11:27 am

    I loved the first 3 books but I could not even get through the third chapter of this one. It’s just awful. If I would have known it was this bad, I would have never bought it. I’m not even going to finish it. I still love the first books though.

  • Olivia Lindgren
    January 19, 2016 at 9:56 am

    I love the first and third books. I don’t like the second.

  • Anonymous
    August 27, 2016 at 1:54 am

    The fourth book was just fucking crap.

  • Holden Leffman
    December 10, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    I think its supposed to not be happy, It is supposed to show that the people you love may just turn in to assholes, it is supposed to make you hate Jon, the book basically justifying rape is not Pfeffer herself justifying rape, it is the character Jon that is justifying rape, now this doesn’t say this book is good, there are still many plotholes and the insta love is stupid, but its not supposed to be a happy book

  • Holden
    December 10, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    you have to remember, this take places from Jon,this is basically Jon talking, this isn’t an outside character justifying the attemped rape of Julie, this is Jon trying to justify it himself, he is a bad person, I like to think of this as him telling a story, he thinks he is in the right and everyone else is wrong, this isn’t the author supporting rape, this is Jon the character supporting rape

  • Holden
    December 10, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    This book is not supposed to be happy, the killing of Laura shows that this is not a fair world, it is a unfair world where you can and will be killed if you rebel, it is supposed to show the helplessness of the world, this is not a happy ending everyone lives story, this is the apocolypse

  • Anonymous
    October 12, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    I found the book left me with mixed emotions. However, I came to this report for info and insight, and instead I left here with disappointment. Any good review should definitely not include memes or cursing.

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