Daisy doesn't get along with her father's new wife and she's not impressed they're about to have a child. A raft of psychologists haven't managed to cure her eating disorder, so as a last resort she's sent to live with her cousins and aunt in rural England. Daisy discovers the pleasures of the simple life and falls in love. Then war breaks out, England is invaded, and nothing can be the same again.
How I Live Now is a stunningly beautiful novel. It's told in Daisy's breathless, bewildered voice, sometimes saddening and often laugh-out-loud funny. This is one of the more "literary" YA books I've read recently, but it's a literary style that doesn't take itself seriously or forget that it's purpose is to entertain teens, not win awards. But because it's just so damned good, it has won awards, and rightly so.
Aunt Penn, Daisy's aunt and the mother of Edmond, Isaac, Osbert and Piper, is called away to Oslo for peace talks, leaving the children, aged between nine and sixteen, to look after themselves, their American cousin and the farm. There's a sense of "we do things differently in the country", and Penn's astoundingly comfortable with her fourteen-year-old son picking Daisy up in a jeep at Heathrow airport. Either that, or she's too consumed with the simmering tensions between just about every country in the world that she doesn't notice who picks her up. Daisy doesn't go into the details. She doesn't go into a lot of things, actually. She reports to the reader only what she herself is interested in. When what seems like World War Three breaks out and England is invaded, Daisy's too busy falling in love with her related-by-blood cousin and learning to have a real life to remark too much on it. At first the whole thing is an adventure for the children: no parents, schools closed down and the faceless, raceless, seemingly harmless invaders present only to drop rations at the end of driveways. But as the war comes closer to home, Daisy and her cousins are forced out of their salad days and into the cruel realities of war.
I found myself comparing How I Live Now with Tomorrow, When the War Began; Daisy with Ellie Linton. Both are stories of teens in an invasion; both star likable, capable girls. Ellie was always capable, a born and bred farm girl who rises to a challenge as easy as breathing. Daisy, on the other hand, is a city girl who starves herself and never had dirt under her nails. But like Ellie she possesses an innate common sense and a strong will to live and support those around her. This is treasonous talk, but Rosoff may have taken Marsden's most popular character, given her flaws and a sense of humour and made her infinitely more relatable. I can hear the howls of protest in defence of dear, DEAR Ellie, whom I adore as much as any of you. But I'm in the pleasant afterglow that comes from reading an outstanding novel and ready to shun all my old favourites. It's a cruel world, isn't it. I'm sure I'll feel horrible in the morning and have to do ten Hail Marsdens, but until then, yay Daisy.
I recently read Wintergirls, a book about an all-consuming (sorry, bad way to put it) eating disorder. Lia doesn't experience a single thought in that novel that doesn't relate somehow to her anorexia. In How I Live Now, the word "anorexia" isn't present and Daisy's illness is peripheral. Like Lia she won't admit she has a problem, but unlike Lia she doesn't spend her days thinking about not-eating. One of the most interesting things about this novel is Daisy's personal growth, which includes dealing with her eating disorder. I did wonder whether Rosoff handled this aspect of the novel too simplistically, or whether Daisy ever had full-blown anorexia to begin with, but it makes for an interesting sub-plot nonetheless.
This book was a recommendation for my dystopia challenge, and I'm so pleased I finally got around to reading it. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so. How I Live Now is a beautiful book.