TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Meg Rosoff's "How I Live Now"won the American Library Association's Printz Award back in 2005 as that year's outstanding novel for young adults. Ok, I realize I am a little late in reading this one — hey, I have a pretty big "to-read" stack! — but since I thought this novel was so striking and original, I just had to write up a review for our blog readers.
Quick summary: Daisy is a 15 year-old American sent away from New York City by her apparently exasperated dad and stepmom. She arrives in rural England to stay with her eccentric Aunt Penn, a slew of cousins (precocious 9 year-old Piper, 14 year-old, seemingly empathic twins Isaac and Edmond, and 17 year-old would-be-man Osbert), and a healthy assortment of sheep dogs, goats, and other animals. Aunt Penn quickly departs for a vague peacekeeping task in Oslo, leaving the kids the run of their country house and surrounding farmland. Daisy, a cynic who struggles with anorexia, finds herself quickly opening up to her cousins, especially compassionate, insightful Edmond. While she recognizes it's technically wrong — they are, after all, first cousins! — she falls into an obsessive, all-encompassing love with Edmond, which makes her days fly by in sheer bliss. Even after a London bombing leaves thousands dead, plunging England into chaos and war and preventing Aunt Penn's return, Daisy can't help but savor the delicious freedom inherent in her new, unsupervised life. One glorious day, all the kids, including the aloof Osbert, spend a magical afternoon picnicking and frolicking by the river.
Unfortunately, the once unseen and distant war soon reaches into Daisy's life. An occupying army, never identified for the reader, lands in the countryside, and the few remaining British forces commandeer Aunt Penn's house as a barracks for their troops. Daisy's newfound family is wrenched apart, and she and the gentle, resourceful Piper are left on their own to make a long, arduous journey back home.
I'm not sure if my plot synopsis conveys it, but "How I Live Now" is a fantastic read for so many reasons. First, Daisy's narration, which occurs in an almost frantic, run-on manner, is captivating. This is the way a teenager thinks, with intense, sometimes jumbled ideas rampantly speeding along. Daisy's description of her intoxicating affair with Edmond is portrayed in a dreamlike, hazy fashion. It's as if she and Edmond share a bond that transcends the mortal and physical, which we soon learn may be the case; Daisy can literally feel Edmond in her mind during their painful separation. I also loved Daisy's unrepentant honesty and brashness, which, again, make her such a realistic teen character.
What else was great? Hrm, where should I start!? The ruthlessness necessary to endure hard times is beautifully portrayed, particularly during Daisy and Piper's struggle to reach home. Yet, despite the often brutal conditions, both dignity and humanity survive in, say, the brotherly attention of a soldier or the knowing advice of an army major. These small touches of compassion have so much more meaning in a landscape of brutality. I also thought Rosoff's depiction of England encountering a faceless enemy and a war with no stated purpose or goals was absolutely brilliant, giving the story a futuristic feel while glancing back to Britain's history of self-sufficiency during two world wars. Rosoff's subtle descriptions of Daisy's eating disorder are similarly wonderful, including the climactic moment when a starving Daisy realizes just how hungry she has been for so long. Finally, the mutually protective relationship between Daisy and Piper is believable, lovely, and occasionally heartbreaking; Daisy mentions holding an exhausted Piper's "paw" on the night their lost dog returns, which is simply beautiful. Readers may find this relationship similar to the touching bond that developed between jaded Katniss and the doelike young tribute Rue in Suzanne Collins' stunning novel, "The Hunger Games."
"How I Live Now" is a compelling, unique, fast-paced novel that has a little something for everyone (love, self growth, action, danger). It is written in an exceptional manner, with insight, hard-earned emotion, and a gripping sense of drama and tension. I would definitely recommend this short novel with a powerful impact to teen readers, both boys and girls, in grades 8 and higher. While there is both sex and violence present here, neither is depicted in a gratuitous manner. Although this novel may challenge you, I think it's a worthy, rewarding read.