Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: How I Live Now

Title: How I Live Now
Author: Meg Rosoff
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary (w/futuristic aspects)
Published: HC August 2004/PB July 2005

From the back cover ~

Fifteen-year-old New Yorker Daisy is sent to live in the English countryside with cousins she's never even met. When England is attached and occupied by an unnamed enemy, the cousins find themselves on their own. Power fails, systems fail. As they grow more isolated, the farm becomes a kind of Eden, with no rules. Until the war arrives in their midst.

Daisy's is a war story, a survival story, a love story - all told in the voice of a subversive and witty teenager. This book crackles with anxiety and with lust. It's a stunning and unforgettable first novel that captures the essence of the age of terrorism: how we live now.

How to describe this book? First off it's told by Daisy in a journal type format. There's no dialogue, just Daisy telling the reader what is happening, who said what and giving her teenage opinion on the world around her. The book comes in at just under 200 pages but it's not exactly a quick read, no dialogue means more words per page. I was surprised at how fast I got into these characters. Daisy's witty and sometimes sarcastic viewpoint made the reading easy. It's as if I'd been rummaging around in someones attic and finding this diary of a teenage girl, sat myself down right in the dust and cobwebs and began to read, oblivious to everything but this girl's story.

Daisy finds herself in unfamiliar surroundings when she is sent to her cousins' farm. It's her mother's sister, Aunt Penn, who has taken Daisy in. Daisy's mother died when Daisy was born and now her father has remarried a woman who Daisy can't stand. Since Daisy and her stepmother don't get along, Daisy's father has decided to send her to live with her cousins for a while. The threat of war is there, it's been talked about for sometime so I can't help but think the father is a real ass to send his daughter away at such a precarious time.

Daisy is picked up at the airport by her cousin Edmund who is fourteen, smokes and drives. He's likable in an odd sort of way.

Here's Daisy's first impression of Edmond. ~

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. page 3

Edmond along with his twin Isaac, their older brother Osbert and nine year old sister Piper all live on a farm with their mother. The house is falling down but in a welcoming kind of way for Daisy. Where she didn't feel at home in her father's house she feels welcomed in her cousins home. This family is not the Brady Bunch but an eclectic group of kids with a mom that loves her children very much but has little time to mother them. So the kids take on adult responsibilities while still maintaining the childlike attitude of the importance of having fun and enjoying themselves. There are some things that happen with the kids that could possibly be called "paranormal" and made the setting even more unique.

Before long Aunt Penn travels to Oslo, leaving the kids in charge of themselves. This doesn't really change their lives that much, they are still basically taking care of themselves only this time there is no adult supervision. A kind of Utopia for them. Then the war happens. At first it doesn't have a direct affect on the kids, they are in the countryside and relatively safe. But they are alone and come to depend on each other more and grow even closer. Eventually things come to a head with Aunt Penn still gone, unable to return to England and Daisy and Piper sent to live away from the farm.

This is where the kids are truly affected by the war and their chance for living any type of normal life is gone. At this point I had a hard time putting the book down, I had to find out what happened to Daisy and Piper. Where were the boys? When would they see them again? Would they see them again? I was right there with Daisy, not sure what the outcome would be and what she and Piper would have to endure to get home again, home to the farm. The way Daisy changed from this teen that is focused on herself and her issues to someone who takes responsibility for others was written well with a progress you could see, it didn't just happen overnight.

The courage and determination of Daisy and Piper was amazing and at times a bit unbelievable. People don't always know what they are capable of under extreme situations and what these two went through could certainly be called that. In the end I found myself cheering them on, knowing that they just had to make it home. The final end was sweet and poignant and while it wrapped up a little too quick for me I still felt it was a good way to end the story.

This book is intended for young adults, I've seen both "ages 12 and up" and "ages 14 and up" for it but I would caution parents to be aware of the contents. There is teen sex, descriptions of death and decaying bodies and some mature subjects are discussed. I would recommend How I Live Now for high school age teens but that is really an individual decision for the parent. I mentioned the teen sex - as a reader I didn't have a problem with it. It wasn't graphic and I thought it fit with the situation these kids were living in. As a mom of a fifteen year old daughter, yeah, I was uncomfortable with it. Parents don't like to think about their kids and sex, that's just how it is.

The publisher does have a "Browse and search" function available for the book. You can try it here if you want an idea of the type of format and writing style. Meg Rosoff's website can be found here.

I did enjoy How I Live Now. I found it different and fascinating and compelling with Daisy's unique outlook on life making this story stand out. I could say that I would have like to get to know the other characters more, perhaps got inside their heads, but then it would have been a different story and I happen to like How I Live Now just the way it was.

Rating A-


  1. Now this sounds interesting to me, Leslie -- more so than some of the other YA books I've seen reviewed lately. I'm not really a YA reader, but I have Perfect Chemistry in my TBR because it piqued my interest, and I think I'll be reading this one. Thanks for the review. :)

  2. Thanks for this fantastic review, Leslie! I picked this up several weeks ago from the used book sale shelf at my library knowing it comes highly recommended and can't believe I haven't picked it up yet! After your review, I'm bumping it up in the pile on my nightstand!

  3. Hils ~ I'm slowly getting into YA. I've been lucky so far. I'm surprised the format didn't bother me but the fact that I did like Daisy's voice certainly helped.

    Christine ~ what a great buy for you! It's different but definitely worth the read. :)

  4. I was lucky... got it for $3, I think! I flipped through it after reading your review the other day and there is very little--as in I didn't see any-- dialogue! I hope I get pulled in like everyone else does. I probably will. I'm fairly easy to please. LOL

  5. Christine ~ if I remember correctly there is one word in parenthesis, just one. LOL I'll be interested in hearing what you think of it. :)