How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is a young adult book that I didn't want to see end, though it wasn't at all what I had expected. The book starts with a clash of cultures, as rebellious New York teen Daisy is sent by her evil stepmother to live with her aunt and cousins on a farm in the English countryside. Daisy finds her cousins welcoming, if a bit strange (they seem to be able to read minds, for example), and she adjusts fairly quickly.
Daisy's aunt is soon called away to Sweden, and Daisy and her cousins are, for a time, blissfully happy, enjoying the beautiful summer weather, and the absence of any adult supervision. Their lives change, however, when war breaks out. In this futuristic what-if scenario of war, England is occupied by the aggressors, with checkpoints and rationing and, eventually, worse. The story that follows describes what might happen to five kids with no adult to defend their interests as the country falls into chaos.
How I Live Now is about doing whatever you must to survive during terrible times. It's also about relationships, and what makes up a family. Daisy's relationship with her youngest cousin, Piper, is particularly strong, as the two girls become each other's sole support. Daisy's relationship with her mind-reading cousin Edmond is a bit more complex. Some might find a love relationship between teenaged first cousins disturbing, but I thought that it was handled well.
There are some disturbing war scenes in the book, and it is probably too intense for younger kids. At the same time, How I Live Now has magic to it, and moments of pure joy. Daisy's voice is wry and entertaining and wise, all wrapped up together. Here's an example: "I was pretty far gone, but not so far gone that I thought anyone with half a toehold in reality would think what we were going was a good idea. But.. Edmond was not corruptible. Some people are just like that and if you don't believe me it just means you've never met one of them yourself. Which is your loss." Daisy is changed by her experiences during the war, but maintains her sense of self, too.
One thing that I liked about the book was that although Daisy is anorectic, her eating disorder is only a small part of her story. Her compulsion to starve herself is certainly part of her character, but she doesn't dwell on it. This is usually my preference for dealing with these types of personal issues - make them part of the character's story, but don't write an "issue" story. Meg Rosoff handles this flawlessly.
How I Live Now is a quick read, but it's one that will stay with you for a long time. It seems particularly timely now, to read a book about what it would be like if a war were to invade the shores of England or America during modern times. Disturbing and frightening, but timely. I highly recommend it.
Meg Rosoff was born in Boston and lives in London. How I Live Now won the Printz award for excellence in young adult literature in 2005.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.