How I Live Now (2004) is Meg Rosoff’s first novel. It is a Printz Award winner (an award for excellence in young adult literature), the Branford Boase Award for a first novel, as well as the Guardian award for Children’s Literature.
My only issue is with the last award because there is no way that How I Live Now could be considered a children’s book no matter how the term “children” is defined. Some reviews on Amazon suggested this book for readers age twelve and up. Personally, I feel that is inappropriate for a wide variety of reasons (I concur with a review that place the book as more fit for fourteen and up if not older) but of course it depends on the child and their reading level. I suspect this is a book protective parents might want to preview, or at least research, if their household is one where an adult has to approve the child’s reading material.
Okay, so now you’re either totally horrified or completely fascinated and want to know more. Here’s the plot: The novel starts when fifteen-year-old Daisy is exiled by her father and step-mother to rural England where she is sent to live with her aunt and cousins. Things begin to look up for Daisy (a narrator who is, at best, troubled) in England as she gets to know her extended family and gets some distance from the negativity of her life in New York.
That is, until the unthinkable happens. When unidentified invaders attack and occupy England Daisy’s life (along with everyone else’) is turned upside down. That’s all well and good. But there’s more to it than that. Daisy also begins a passionate, secret, relationship with Edmond–her cousin. That’s right, incestuous.
I’ve thought about this plot point since reading the novel and I do see how Daisy and Edmond being in love was pivotal to the way things went down in the novel. But I still don’t understand why they had to be related. There are so many other, simpler, methods of creating that kind of connection between characters than using incest. Appropriateness aside, it just doesn’t make sense.
Other reviewers suggest this novel is written in the near future, but really it doesn’t read that way. It reads like it’s written now. That’s what makes the plot so haunting. Unfortunately it’s also what makes the plot seem contrived. Perhaps Daisy’s reality is closer than I’d like to admit, but the war angle kept seeming unreal (not surreal, just not real). The absence of details, while maintaining the terror of the unknown, was also counterproductive in establishing an authentic enemy.
The novel is also written as continuous prose, meaning there are no formatting breaks for dialogue (although paragraphs do still factor). This isn’t my favorite style for literature, but it does work with the idea that Daisy is literally telling readers the story.
I didn’t love this book. The truth is, after writing this review, I begin to wonder if I liked it. But that isn’t to say that Daisy (and her younger cousin Piper) are not strong characters. Daisy may not make decisions that many people would agree with, but she does act on what she thinks is right (or at least on what she feels she has to do).
The strongest part of the novel is the middle where the incest doesn’t loom large and before the ending seems to cut everything short, much in the way resolutions can put a stop to events in real life. This middle ground focuses on Daisy and Piper trying to survive in a world they don’t always recognize. The title, comes from this scenario as readers watch Daisy and the rest of the world adapt to life during (and after) the war.
And frankly, despite my criticisms here, Rosoff does have some really nice lines. She writes with a sincerity that makes you really want to believe Daisy knows what she’s doing (in the sense that it makes sense) with Edmond, and with her earlier issues with Bulimia (see why I said she was troubled?).
In summary, there was a lot I didn’t like about this book. Being unfamiliar with the other candidates for that year, I can’t say if How I Live Now was the best choice for a Printz Award. What I can say is that Rosoff does have a way with words which may, in my view at least, be able to better shine in a novel that isn’t quite so edgy.
I’ll leave you now with a few of the quotes I jotted down after my reading of the novel:
“The real truth is that the war didn’t have much to do with it except that it provided a perfect limbo in which two people who were too young and too related could start kissing without anything or anyone making us stop.”
“I didn’t seem to have that effect on anyone but it would have been a waste for both of us to be saints.”
“I frightened myself. I became the ghost Piper was so scared of.”
Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Green Angel by Alice Hoffman, The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld