Friday, June 27, 2008

Book Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

This is the story of 15 year old New York native Daisy who is sent to live with cousins in England on the eve of global war. Now why would any father send his daughter so far away in such circumstances? For one, it appears he’s knocked up a “scheming harpy” who hasn’t done much to address “the centuries of bad press for stepmothers”. Secondly, Daisy has long been using anorexia as a way to protest her father’s choices and he’s at his wit’s end. So, it’s off to Aunt Penn’s idyllic farm for the supremely self absorbed teen – though Aunt Penn isn’t around for long. She leaves her children (the youngest is 9 year old Piper) all alone to attend some vague conference. Not that Daisy minds, it gives her the perfect chance to start up an illicit affair with her cousin Edmund and run wild in the English countryside. But then the war heats up, and Daisy finds out she can’t keep the world at bay forever.

Being the huge dystopia fan I am, I was excited to read this. If you can get over the believability issues I mentioned in the first paragraph, you’ll find a meaty novel here about the realities of war and the effects it has on everyone involved. At first, Daisy is rather callous when she hears about people dying: “Most of the people who got killed were either old like our parents so they’d had good lives already, or people who worked in banks and were pretty boring anyway or other people we didn’t know.” She doesn’t let much get to her. Then she opens her heart to Edmund, is ripped away from the farm, and has to become a surrogate parent of sorts for Piper. She grows up fast.

The prose has a heavy, dreamlike quality to it, underscoring the atmosphere of dread and blunting the emotional impact, like war tends to do. It’s a fitting stylistic choice, but it slows the pace at times to a frustrating crawl and tends to weigh down the narrative. The characters, for the most part, are well drawn. Daisy has her problems, but I liked her snark and spunk. Piper comes off perhaps as a bit too angelic (she’s even a dog whisperer) and Edmund is hard to read, but boys usually are. This is a sucessful novel on many levels - too bad about the tacked on and off-putting ending.

If you like this book, you might like to read Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, a novel with similar themes that I liked even more.

6 comments:

Alea said...

This seems interesting. I'll have to look into it further.

alisonwonderland said...

i've got both How I Live Now and Into the Forest on my to-read list. i see that you have two of my all-time favorites on your favorite books in your profile - Beauty and Doomsday Book.

Grace said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog! I'm a big fan of dystopian fiction, too.

trish said...

This is on my wishlist. :-)

The Compulsive Reader said...

I remember reading this post months ago right after I read the book myself, and that you reccomended another book similar to it! I just spent forever trying to track down your post because I wanted to give my mom Into the Forest for Christmas, but couldn't remember the title! I'm glad I've found it, and great review!

Jeanne said...

My daughter and I loved this book, so I'm going to find Into the Forest!