How I Live Now

How I Live Now was written by Meg Rosoff and first published in 2004. It is a work of speculative fiction, focusing on the experiences of a teenage girl in rural England as World War III breaks out. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it. It also won a number of literary awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Michael L Printz Award.

Daisy is fifteen-years-old and feels as though she has been utterly abandoned. Her father cares more about his pregnant wife than he does for her and has sent her away to live with her Aunt for the summer. Daisy finds this to be a bit of a culture shock at first. Not only has she been forced to trade Manhattan for the English countryside, but she has also got to get to know her four decidedly odd cousins – Osbert, Edmond, Isaac and Piper.

Luckily Daisy is quick to hit it off with her distant family, especially Edmond with whom she develops a mutual attraction. The summer seems to be perfect but everything changes when Aunt Penn leaves to attend a lecture in Oslo for a few days. It is over this time that the first bombs hit London and everything descends into chaos. The teenagers find themselves cut off from everything. Although the war has not reached them, they slowly begin to feel its impact through rationing and power failure to the village.

For a while, Daisy and her family are still happy and continue life as normal. However, that is before the army decide that they need to commandeer their house for a base. The girls and boys are split up and sent to different villages and everything suddenly becomes very real. Daisy and Piper know that they need to escape and find the boys, however how can they hope to do so when supplies are scarce and The Enemy could be anywhere?

Let’s start this review with my usual words of warning. How I Live Now does contain a few themes that may make readers feel uncomfortable. While I have certainly reviewed more violent stories, the book’s sedate start does lure readers into a bit of a false sense of security as it does contain some deaths that are incredibly sudden and nasty. The book also depicts a sexual relationship between two first cousins. While this is a very minor aspect of the overall story, it may make readers feel uncomfortable as well as be considered illegal in some countries so I figured I would give you the heads up.

How I Live Now is certainly a very unusual novel and I’m still a bit on the fence about how I feel about it. The novel is split into two parts, roughly covering the occupation and the aftermath, with the first of these being much longer than the second. The first part of the novel is also told as a single continuous stream of consciousness, which can be a little tiring to read at times. Although the book is only a little over two hundred pages in length, it did feel a lot longer than this.

The narrator in question is a fifteen-year-old American who has found herself stranded in a strange country as enemy forces invade. While the novel is technically a war story, it portrays surprisingly little of the actual conflict. As the targets mainly seem to be major cities, it takes a long time for the threat to reach Daisy out in the middle of nowhere. The opposing forces are also only ever referred to as The Enemy and most of the violence that Daisy sees is the aftermath of skirmishes between them and the Home Guard. It’s more of a story about her survival than a commentary on the war itself.

Because of this, the novel can feel very slow in places. There is a lot of exposition, including a rather hefty chunk where a soldier explains to Daisy about the difficulty in securing food and medicine, yet this ultimately does not come to much. Even at the point when Daisy and Piper try to go it alone, their survival seems to be remarkably easy. While Daisy comments that they both look skinny, they manage to survive off the land with remarkable ease and in doing so don’t really ever want for much.

For me, this was one of the story’s biggest issues. For a survival story, there isn’t a lot of surviving. The first-person narrative is too firmly rooted on Daisy, who ultimately does not see much of the war. While there are other characters, such as Edmond and Isaac, who do suffer a lot more, we never really see their side of the story. What became of them after the separation is merely exposited over the last few chapters.

However, How I Live Now does do a great job of portraying a dystopia of a different kind. This is not like the science fiction dystopias of The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner where one skinny teen can ultimately change the world. Instead, the world that it portrays is a lot bleaker and more frightening. The world of How I Live Now is just like our own, which made the collapse of its social order hit a bit closer to home. As Daisy is not a rebel or a fighter, there is no sense that she has any power to influence anything. The best she can really hope for is to protect Piper and stay ahead of The Enemy, who she knows will kill her without asking questions.

Daisy was an interesting and sympathetic protagonist and I felt that the novel did a great job of subtly presenting her issues, broaching subjects like anorexia without ever really drawing attention to them. It’s not a novel that spoon feeds the reader, so you do have to remain pretty sharp while reading her stream of consciousness, as she’s not the most reliable of narrators and so you sometimes have to pick out the truth that is implied in the things that she tells the reader.

However, Daisy was not without her issues. I have a big problem in believing that a modern fifteen-year-old girl would be so apathetic to the outbreak of World War III. Even when the bombs start to drop, she still has no idea who The Enemy is and doesn’t really care to find out. Even in the second part of the novel which is set some time after the war has ended, she never once acknowledges who they are fighting. I could perhaps have bought this for a younger teenager but I really felt that Daisy should care a little more.

I also didn’t think that the supporting characters were very well fleshed out. Daisy’s romance with Edmond comes out of nowhere and does not last for long before the two are split up. Seriously, they kiss once and then spend a few chapters absolutely joined at the hip, despite not having many deep and meaningful conversations before this. The other cousins are all also pretty shallow, with Isaac and Osmond not really making much of an impression and Piper behaving more like a Disney Princess than a well-rounded nine-year-old.

All in all, I was left rather disappointed by this story. While How I Live Now had an interesting concept, the short novel was surprisingly heavy-going, bleak and dull in parts. It might be worth borrowing from the library if you’re curious but I certainly have no desire to ever read it again.

How I Live Now can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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