Life as We Knew It Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Life as We Knew It

Life as We Knew It Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
January 10. Laura wakes up ill and soon Jonny is screaming in delirium too. Matt says he’ll go get help, but then realizes he can barely stand. Miranda vows to go get Peter, and she skis to the hospital. But once she gets there, she learns that it’s deserted. The only people left are two nurses who are too scared to go home and learn what has happened to their own families. Every one else—including Peter—has died from the flu.
Their fears about illness manifest in a way that places all the responsibility on Miranda. Knowing that she failed to get help during her last trip to the hospital, she nevertheless tries again—only to learn that there’s no one left to help them. The death of Peter, who’d felt like a safety net for all things medical, is an especially hard blow.
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The nurses tell Miranda that there’s nothing that they or she can do to help. She can try to keep her sick family members hydrated and pray—but it’s really up to chance whether they live or die. Miranda rejects this and skis home in tears, telling Matt “We’re on our own,” before he collapses. She records her thoughts in case she falls ill and dies, and ends the entry by praying not to be the last one left alive.
Miranda can’t accept the nurses’ advice—because if so, there’s nothing she can do to save her family, and knowing she’s helpless adds to her panic. Miranda oscillates between terror that she’ll fall ill too and dread that she’ll be the only one to survive.
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January 11-12. Miranda nurses her mother and brothers with very little change. Matt seems the least sick and she’s hopeful he’ll survive, but Laura and Jonny are too weak to even swallow without assistance. Miranda is exhausted from caring for them, but doesn’t feel ill. There are snow- and ice-storms outside.
The weather in this scene adds an extra layer of tension. The conditions are worsening, trapping Miranda in the house. Not that there is anywhere she could go for help, but it makes her exhausting job of caring for three ill people by herself feel extra confining.
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January 13-14. Miranda wakes up and realizes the sunroom is full of smoke and everyone is choking. With Matt’s help she drags Laura and Jonny into the kitchen, then ventures down in the basement to turn off the furnace. She realizes that ice or snow must’ve fallen down the woodstove’s chimney and that she needs to dry out the stove. She does this by staying up all night and burning textbooks, though she doesn’t think Matt has the strength to help her move Laura and Jonny back out into the sunroom.
The author drags out this scene with many small sensory details—the temperature in the frozen basement beneath Miranda’s bare feet, the smell of the smoke, the sounds of the coughs. By drawing out these details and extending the scene, she is able to create a sense of Miranda’s perseverance against exhausting conditions.
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January 15-16. Laura’s fever breaks and by the end of the day she’s coherent enough to order Miranda to eat, something Miranda has been too distracted to do for days. Laura wants Peter to come look at Jonny, but Miranda doesn’t have the heart to tell her Peter has died, so she says it’s too late to travel to the hospital. The following day Jonny has started to recover.
Miranda’s relief about Laura’s recovery is transformed into concern about how to tell her about Peter’s death. Laura has so little that is hers—her whole life has become about her kids’ survival, and Miranda knows her relationship with Peter was a rare bright spot.
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January 17-26. Miranda continues to struggle with everyone’s chores. At times she resents this. Laura and Jonny are starting to be strong enough to take a few steps, but Miranda worries that Matt damaged his heart when he helped her drag them from the smoky sunroom. Miranda feeds them three meals a day to help them recover, but knows this is a risky use of their dwindling supplies. When Miranda finally agrees to let them help her, she sleeps for two days straight, then wakes to clear the snow off the sunroom’s roof, marveling that her whole family survived the flu.
At this moment Miranda’s personal growth is nearly complete. No longer is she the girl from the book’s beginning who obsessed about petty things, picked arguments with her mom, or needed instruction to take action. Miranda is now effectively running the family and making life-or-death decisions that affect everyone. While she may question herself, she doesn’t hesitate to care for them.
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January 27. Laura tells Miranda how proud she is of the way Miranda took care of them all while they were sick. Laura asks if she remembers seeing Peter, or if she was delusional, and Miranda reveals that Peter has died. She tries to offer comfort by saying he died heroically, to which Laura responds, “I wish we didn’t need so damn many heroes.”
Despite the ways she’s matured, Miranda is still ill-prepared to tell Laura about Peter’s death or provide comfort. There’s irony in the fact that a conversation that began with Laura praising Miranda for heroics ends with her wishing for the need for fewer heroes.
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January 30-February 4. While they’re recovering, Laura has the siblings resume schoolwork. Matt remains too weak to even climb a flight of stairs. This upsets him and he worries that he won’t ever be strong again, and that he’ll be a burden. Miranda reminds him that he hurt himself saving Laura and Jonny, and that he’s her hero regardless of his strength.
Matt continues in the almost sacrificial role he’s played throughout the story. Now it’s his strength—the thing the family had depended on for so long—that he’s given up in order to save Laura and Jonny.
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February 7. Laura’s birthday is celebrated by small tokens of love, like Jonny letting her beat him at chess and Matt walking to and from the stairs. She declares it her best birthday yet.
This journal entry is another example of the characters appreciating their time together, because they realize it’s limited.
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