How I Live Now
by Meg Rosoff
Fifteen year old Daisy is a troubled New Yorker sent to England to stay with relatives she doesn't really know -- her aunt Penn and her children, Edmond, Isaac, Osbert and Piper. Though Daisy recognizes it for the exile it is, she's grateful to escape her stepmother and immerse herself in the lives of her eccentric and intriguing cousins, drawn especially to the uncanny Edmond. When war breaks out and Aunt Penn is stuck in Oslo, Daisy and her cousins live an idyllic life in the coutryside, aware there's a war on, but peacefully removed from it.
But of course this cannot last, and when it finds them, it comes with a vengeance. Daisy and her cousins must struggle to survive against all odds, but will they ever be able to find their way back to each other and the blissful life they've lost?
[God, sometimes the summaries I write are so effing corny I make myself a little sick.]
Anywho, this Printz Award winning novel from Rosoff is a stunner. It's rare in that I think it would appeal to teens and adults just about equally, and here's why:
The style. Its stream-of-consciousness style, which is going to be challenging for some (though make others, especially perhaps those who don't read as much, feel right at home), is a brilliant choice. Though I like S-O-C, I am always a bit hesitant to read it. It's tricky to pull off, as it can seem confusing or indulgent, and the voice has to be just so, but for this, it works perfectly. Daisy's voice is fantastic, and there are all of these little gems, things that she says that you have to read over again and write down so that you can refer back to them. Her thoughts are funny and unusual and thought-provoking, and I enjoyed being in her head.
The S-O-C style also worked well in another way: Daisy has issues -- big ones -- which are hinted at and slowly revealed through out the book, and she is in a pretty bad place when she arrives in England. Being immersed in her head and just plunged into the swirly craziness is captivating, but what makes it more so is that, as the world falls apart into chaos around her, Daisy's narration becomes more and more simple and sane. There's this great subtle contrast that you don't realize is happening until it hits you; it builds slowly and with a great deal of restraint, and it works.
The relationships. The relationships in this book are very interesting. As we learn of Daisy's issues, we also learn of the abilities of her cousins, each of whom seem a bit something, prescient, telepathic, a little something that is never really named, but treated as a given. Since we are in Daisy's mind, and they are a part of her mind, we get these great interactions between them, especially with Edmond and Piper, both of which are fabulous relationships to read. I may make people angry for that opinion, though...Daisy and Edmond develop a relationship that is a bit more than familial, which is going to be controversial for some people, since they are cousins and underage. But I have to say, don't let it put you off reading this book. It just works for the story, and I don't know how else to convince you than to say, by the end, you won't give a damn that they're related. Really. I was dubious at first, but very quickly on, I was in love with them both. Though Isaac and Osbert are throwaway characters, both Edmond and Piper are great for what they do for Daisy and for their own sakes, and you grow to care about them.
The topics. There's a lot to digest in this slim little powerhouse of a book. The war, which we don't know all that much about, is like a character itself, making brutal appearances in our characters lives. There are a lot of war books that take a lot of time and page-space to make us feel the desolation of war and the horrible dehumanizing effects. In How I Live Now, this is sort of always on the periphery, and you kind of forget about it until suddenly you realize just how quickly things can get really, really bad. Rosoff doesn't need 500 pages of brutality to make you understand just how bad war can be. The dystopic, post-apocalyptic elements and some of the harsh realities are going to make for very thought-provoking and captivating reading for those who are interested, but it's not so overwhelmingly a part of the story that those who avoid serious books for being "downers" will be put off. Also, again the relationship between Daisy and Edmond is another topic that's really going to stick with people and make for great discussion, teen and adult alike.
My 1 drawback? Of course there is one, you should know me well enough by now...I was a little let down by the ending. Not completely, because I did actually like the way the story ended (though I think it will piss some people off); my gripe is more with the way the ending was written. There's so much power packed into the rest of the story that the end seemed a little underdone to me. It lacked that oomph. It wasn't quite a brush-off, but it was enough to keep me from being 100% satisfied with the book as a whole. I almost wish that there was no 3rd part at all, even though it would mean I'd always wonder... But it's such a slim book that it's not like Rosoff needed to limit her word-count; she could have done the characters a little more justice by just oomphing up the end. Just a bit.
Still though. It's more challenging than the general YA, which will appeal to adults, but it's got a great relatable voice for teens; there are things going on that are going to keep people thinking about it, that are going to worm their way into reader's brains in the best way. Pick it up, and when you're done, give it to your mother and/or your daughter, and then discuss it when you're all done. It could be a really rewarding experience.
How I Live Now won the Michael L. Printz Award, the Guardian Award and the Branford Boase Award, and was listed in the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year, Booktrust Teenage Prize and the Carnegie Medal. Not too shabby.
Cool factiod: In 2007, BBC Radio 4 adapted the novel for Women's Hour Drama. I find this a brilliant idea. Why aren't more great current books adapted for radio? I mean, and audio book is one thing, but the idea of everyone tuning in at the same time to listen to a good story is really lovely to me.
Lastly, here's my Teaser Tuesday for the book.