How I Live Now is an original and poignant book by Meg Rosoff, now a film tie-in edition to celebrate the release of the major film starring Saoirse Ronan. Fifteen-year-old Daisy thinks she knows all about love. Her mother died giving birth to her, and now her dad has sent her away for the summer, to live in the English countryside with cousins she's never even met. There she'll discover what real love is: something violent, mysterious and wonderful.
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Rarely does a writer come up with a first novel so assured, so powerful and engaging that you can be pretty sure that you will want to read everything that this author is capable of writing. But that is what has happened with Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, which, even before publication, is being talked of as a likely future classic. Though billed as a book for older children, the novel is full of shocking events - underage sex, with a whiff of incest, appalling violence.
But younger readers, with their relative lack of experience and greater insouciance, may well be less troubled by these things than the many adults who will also read the book. The four cousins are romantic, bohemian and enjoy an eccentric, faintly feral pastoral idyll of an existence in a rambling English country house, mystically in touch with nature and, indeed, with Daisy. One of the twins, Isaac, talks to animals; Piper, the girl, knows how to get honey from bees and watercress from a running river.
And Edmond, who has 'eyes the colour of unsettled weather', is so much her soulmate that he can get inside her head, even when they are far apart. As Daisy and Edmond fall in not-so-chaste love, her Aunt Penn, who appears to be some sort of international peacekeeper, is summoned to Oslo in an attempt to avert the threatened war.
The action takes place in a kind of parallel present or near future. The unworldly, though not entirely innocent, English children and their sophisticate cousin are left to fend for themselves as the fighting breaks out.
Initially, they experience the war chiefly as a glorious absence of adults. It is Daisy's voice - spiky, defiant and vulnerable - that makes this novel; it also ensures that it is so compelling and delightful. Although Daisy can be an unreliable narrator, especially when it comes to things she's not much interested in, such as the details of war, she is also utterly trustworthy. She is a character we are permitted to see from many different angles - as hurt, but also cool, ironic, downbeat and superior; as an infuriating anorexic; and as resourceful, self-deprecating, funny and determined.
The latter qualities turn out to be rather necessary, because Daisy and her youngest cousin, Piper, are evacuated, moved on and eventually have to try to trek back home cross-country to find the rest of their family without being killed by one side or the other.
As Daisy notes: '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. Even though the details remain vague, the war is fiercely imagined, its interpretation through the offhand eyes of a child making it oddly more horrific. The first bomb goes off, Daisy informs us, 'in the middle of a big train station the day after Aunt P went to Oslo and something like 7, or 70, people got killed'.
The violence remains largely in the background until near the end, but touches the children in unexpected ways: emails bounce back, telephones stop ringing, cows develop mastitis because there's no electricity to milk them. How I Live Now is a book written out of an apprehension of how terrible the world is, but also out of its potential for magic.
Rosoff has great imaginative reach; her voice is so finely tuned that I instinctively trusted her, from the opening page right up to the wonderfully equivocal ending. With its lack of punctuation, its muddled tenses, its breezy tone concealing an absolutely stricken state, this is a powerful novel: timeless and luminous.
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How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff - review
E lisabeth is a fifteen year-old girl who prefers to be called Daisy. Because of an emerging war her parents send her from New York to England. There she lives with her four cousins, three boys and a girl, and her aunt, all of whom she has never met before. They live on a beautiful country farm with dogs, chicken, goats and cows. A whole new world for Daisy, who is used to the busy streets of New York. Because of her work, Daisy's aunt soon has to leave for Oslo, Norway, and the kids have to take care of themselves.
How I Live Now
Feb 08, Minutes Young Adult Buy. Feb 08, Minutes Young Adult. When England is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy, the cousins find themselves on their own. Power fails, system fail. As they grow more isolated, the farm becomes a kind of Eden, with no rules.
Suddenly last summer...
Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth who goes by the name of Daisy is sent from the US to stay with her aunt Penn and her children, Daisy's cousins, on a remote farm in the United Kingdom during the outbreak of a fictional third world war of the 21st century. Though she is happy about moving away from her stepmother who is pregnant, Daisy is homesick at first. First meeting her year-old cousin Edmond at the airport, Daisy calls him "some kind of mutt"; however, her view of Edmond changes after settling in. Arriving at the farm she also meets Edmond's twin brother Isaac, 9-year-old Piper, and Osbert, who is the eldest brother. Daisy's homesickness only lasts for a short while before she and her extended family become close, and Daisy begins to embrace her new home.