Title: How I Live Now
Author: Meg Rosoff
Genre: YA/ Dystopian
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (US)/ Puffin (UK)
Publication Date:April 2006 / June 2010 (UK – re edition)
Paperback: 194 pages
“Every war has turning points and every person too.”
Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.
As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone.
How did I get this book: Bought.
Why did I read this book: It has been on our radar for a long, long time.
I had been waiting to read How I Live Now for a long time now, especially after reading reviews by some of my favourites bloggers (and by a few newspapers too, but who cares about those? I trust my favourite bloggers so much more. Angie even NAMED her adorable child after a character in this book) and finally the time came with YAAM.
It’s not hard to pinpoint what makes How I Live Now such a compelling read: its evocative, atmospheric narrative with its lack of both punctuation and dialogue speech marks and the non-stop-I-can’t-breathe-must-keep-reading pacing more than anything else are what kept me turning the pages voraciously. How I Live Now is not flawless but it is SO beautiful it hurts.
Daisy is our protagonist and narrator. A 15 year old New Yorker who has been sent by her father to live with her late mother’s relatives in England. Daisy recounts her life in England with her weirdly magical cousins, from the idyllic first days gallivanting in the countryside, without adult supervision after her aunt goes on a trip to Oslo, to falling in love with her cousin Edmond. The narrative progresses with the ensuing chaos after England is invaded, the War starts and the cousins are evacuated and separated; the high point is Daisy’s relentless strive for survival alongside her youngest cousin Piper and her attempts to reunite with Edmond.
Once How I Live Now starts, I found it difficult to put it down. Part of this reaction comes from its nonstop narrative. I think the best way to describe is: it reads as though Daisy took a deep breath one day and decided to tell me, the reader, how she lived in those days in England and didn’t stop until she was done. The result is a rapport between the reader and Daisy that is hard to break because the narrative is inviting and intimate.
I also find that is almost impossible to separate plot and character when it comes to this book. I think that both plot and narrative ARE essentially Daisy. And Daisy is, and consequently the narrative as well, self-absorbed and unreliable but also: funny, resilient, compassionate, and spirited. She is a doer and a survivor and among cousins that are almost mythical creatures (they have weird abilities like being able to talk to animals and communicate silently), she is also almost the most REAL one too. She is a force, a propelling force.
I think this quote summarises everything that Daisy is:
“I don’t get nearly enough credit in life for the things I manage not to say.
Of course in order to survive, Piper and I needed to have a plan, and I was the one who was going to have to make it because Piper’s job was to be a Mystical Creature and mine was to get things done here on earth which was just how the cards were dealt and there was no point thinking of it any other way. Our major plan, which we didn’t even have to discuss, was to get back together with Edmond and Isaac and Osbert by hook or by crook. So far, I was pretty hazy in the details.”
Does she do it? You will have to read to find out. But know this, the second part of the book is starkly different from the first part and it is heartbreaking and heart-warming and the final lines of the novel are incredible.
There is also an aura of mystery surrounding the story because Daisy is a certain type of unreliable narrator – one who is self-absorbed and won’t look further than its own nose, at least to begin with. And this presents a twofold result.
On one hand I felt utterly frustrated by this. And this is a very personal reaction to the story itself and how Daisy reacts to what is happening around her. A war is looming in the horizon, their country is invaded, the only adult they can count on is gone and yet Daisy doesn’t seem to be asking a lot of questions. Because of that, I couldn’t tell you WHO invaded England, WHEN or WHY. The story also has a certain “old days” feeling – the kids are homeschooled, they live off the farm but it is in fact some point in the near future. There are mentions of emails and mobiles and so I found it hard to believe that these kids would be so naïve and so insulated as to not ask simple questions, especially at their age. Daisy starts a sexual relationship with Edmond and although I have zero problems with the fact that they are cousins, and I actually loved their connection and love story, I do have a problem with how she never thought of contraception (I kept waiting for her to get pregnant).
So this is on the one hand. On the other hand, the fact that the narrative is so destitute of certain realistic details it allows for the story to be stripped down to its bare essentials, to what is crucial: the people and how they survive in times of war. Because of that, the pesky details don’t really matter because all you need to know is how Daisy lived then and how she lives now. And what she has to do to get from one point to another. And THAT my friends is a story worth reading.
My name is Elizabeth but no one’s ever called me that. My father took one look at me when I was born and must have thought I had the face of someone dignified and sad like an old fashioned queen or a dead person, but what I turned out like is plain, not much there to notice. Even my life so far has been plain. More Daisy than Elizabeth from the word go.
But the summer I went to England to stay with my cousins everything changed. Part of that was because of the war, which supposedly changed lots of things, but I can’t remember much about life before the war anyway so it doesn’t count in my book, which this is.
Mostly everything changed because of Edmond.
And so here’s what happened.
I’m coming off this plane, and I’ll tell you why that is later, and landing at London airport and I’m looking around for a middle-aged kind of woman who I’ve seen in pictures who’s my Aunt Penn. The photographs are out of date, but she looked like the type who would wear a big necklace and flat shoes, and maybe some kind of narrow dress in black or gray. But I’m just guessing since the pictures only ever showed her face.
Anyway, I’m looking and looking and everyone’s leaving and there’s no signal on my phone and I’m thinking Oh Great, I’m going to be abandoned at the airport so that’s two countries they don’t want me in, when I notice everyone’s gone except this kid who comes up to me and says You must be Daisy. And when I look relieved he does too and says I’m Edmond.
Hello Edmond, I said, nice to meet you, and I look at him hard to try to get a feel for what my new life with my cousins might be like.
Now let me tell you what he looks like before I forget because it’s not exactly what you’d expect from your average fourteen-year-old what with the CIGARETTE and hair that looked like he cut it himself with a hatchet in the dead of night, but aside from that he’s exactly like some kind of mutt, you know the ones you see at the dog shelter who are kind of hopeful and sweet and put their nose straight into your hand when they meet you with a certain kind of dignity and you know from that second that you’re going to take him home? Well that’s him.
Only he took me home.
I’ll take your bag, he said, and even though he’s about half a mile shorter than me and has arms about as thick as a dog leg, he grabs my bag, and I grab it back and say Where’s your mom, is she in the car?
And he smiles and takes a drag on his cigarette, which even though I know smoking kills and all that, I think is a little bit cool, but maybe all the kids in England smoke cigarettes? I don’t say anything in case it’s a well known fact that the smoking age in England is something like twelve and by making a big thing about it I’ll end up looking like an idiot when I’ve barely been here five minutes. Anyway, he says Mum couldn’t come to the airport cause she’s working and it’s not worth anyone’s life to interrupt her while she’s working, and everyone else seemed to be somewhere else, so I drove here myself.
I looked at him funny then.
You drove here yourself? You DROVE HERE yourself? Yeah well and I’M the Duchess of Panama’s Private Secretary.
Verdict: Even though I was slightly frustrated with the not-knowing, I fully appreciated the book for what it is: an engrossing, beautiful story of survival and love.
Rating: Ana: 8 – Excellent
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