Sunday, October 4, 2009

Review: How I Live Now

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.


  1. I adore How I Live Now, so I'm really glad you liked it. (That said, I actually feel more attached to Ellie Linton as a character right now... maybe I'm in the exact opposite of your afterglow situation.) Your review has reminded me exactly how beautiful How I Live Now is, so I'm going to dig out my copy and give it another read.

  2. Thank you for your comment!
    The last week I was in Santiago, I've been there like 3 times. Is very beautiful; a lot of entertainment and culture. I hope you enjoy the trip!
    And also thank you for the review. Sounds like an interesting book. :D

  3. Wonderful review. I simply LOVE this book and am glad you did as well. I read it in a day and got up the next morning and read it through again. I simply could not help myself. Beautiful, beautiful book.

  4. Great minds, Rhiannon. I have my Trailer Tuesday post ready to go on How I Live Now on the CMIS blog, with lots of additional links - trailer, interviews, reviews, awards etc. It will be up at 8.30am Tuesday 6 October.
    I do these a couple of weeks ahead so was very pleased and surprised to see your review. It's a great book.

  5. This actually isn't one of my favorites, but I did like the parts you pointed out here. Didn't you find the romance pretty creepy?!

  6. Lenore--Not creepy as such. Cousin kissing is one of those grey areas, not quite incest but a bit off, too. It's legal to marry a first cousin, but probably not genetically good for any babies. I didn't mind it at all in this book and thought it added an interesting facet to the story. The whole "psychic connection" Daisy had with Edmond threatened to spill over into the realms of unnecessary spirituality, but was kept ambiguous and I could accept it as longing rather than any actual psychic ability. There's nothing I detest more than a book firmly grounded in this world that tries to add a bit of "magic" for no good reason.

  7. Oh, what a great review! I have had this one on my TBR list for a while now, and I had almost forgotten about it. Now I feel like picking it up soon!

  8. This is one of my all-time fave YA novels. I'm glad you enjoyed it too!