Fifteen-year-old Daisy leaves the chaos of a world she knows — New York — for a completely new sort of chaos: one with her cousins in England. Desperate to get away from her father and new stepmother, who’s pregnant, Daisy hopes she’ll find some sort of salvation and calm away from the city.
Instead, she finds herself in the middle of someone else’s war.
Daisy resides with Osbert, Edmond, Isaac and their sister Piper, whom Daisy comes to rely on as a source of strength to carry on. After The Enemy invades, Daisy’s Aunt Penn is unable to return to her children and niece from a business trip in Norway. Left to their own devices, the kids manage to keep up the daily tasks of running their farm — and look to people in a neighboring village for news on the war. Time passes with the teens in a state of limbo — there’s no adult to order them about, but there’s also dwindling food supplies. It’s in this state of freedom — their absolute isolation — that Daisy is finally able to acknowledge the feelings she has for Edmond, sleepy-eyed and slow to smile. The love she feels for him suddenly eclipses all else.
But then the war comes home. The rag-tag groups of civilian armies in England start to roam the countryside, unsure of their orders in a nation now occupied by enemy forces. The kids are separated — and what follows is their attempt, often futile, to get back home.
Like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, How I Live Now was an important, powerful story. Told in a stream-of-consciousness style and lacking any quotation marks, this book is Daisy’s narrative — the way she recounts the days, weeks and months that led from her first meeting with cousin Edmond to their wandering around the countryside, starving and desperate, as The Occupation of England raged on. The novel is full of strong, sweeping imagery — much of it disturbing. There was such a sense of foreboding through the book, I actually felt my hands trembling as Daisy approached a farm, looking for survivors.
I knew this couldn’t end well. Or could it?
Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is simultaneously dreamy, moving, terrifying, surreal and realistic. It’s a survivor’s story — and that’s not limited to Daisy alone. Anyone growing up in the age of terrorism — which is all of us — looks at the world differently, and I could easily see parts of current American culture in the book, which is set in an indeterminate time. The war is never totally explained, though it seems like WWIII, but it doesn’t really need to be — nor does Daisy’s obsession with food and starvation, which is eventually altered completely.
Partly I wouldn’t be good old Daisy if I didn’t get my appetite back just when everyone else in the world was learning how to starve, and partly the idea of wanting to be thin in a world full of people dying from lack of food struck even me as stupid.
I also loved the title — it’s so provocative to me. How I live now brings home the point that nothing happens in isolation — that the experiences we’ve survived stay with us always, slung over our shoulder like a backpack. Regardless of how much time has passed for any of the cousins, the reality remains the same — they live now with the knowledge of all that’s come to pass, much in the way that we all live now in a world where little, to me, feels safe. We live now with the knowledge that we are vulnerable, and that bad things can happen to good people — but that doesn’t mean we stop caring, loving or dreaming. We live now knowing that we’re survivors.
4 out of 5!