Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. Wendy Lamb Books, 2004. 194p. Grades 8 and up. Realistic Fiction. (2005 Printz Award).
Daisy, a fifteen year old New Yorker, is sent to stay with cousins in the British countryside at the outbreak of World War III. Just as she is settling into her new life (and a new romance with her cousin Edmond), the cousins receive word that their diplomat mother has been stranded in Oslo due to a bombing and terrorists begin attacking the UK. Although limited at first to the major British cities, the war soon spreads to the rural areas and Daisy finds herself on a trek for survival with her youngest cousin Piper. This haunting novel is told in a unique first-person style and presents a terrifying, yet ultimately hopeful, vision of a near-future rent by the destruction of war.
Thoughts- When I first started reading How I Live Now, all I could think was how unrelentingly weird this book was. I was having a hard time pinning down the main character, and even though I knew it was intentional, I could not for the life of me figure out what was going on with all that first-person, present tense, run-on sentence narration. Luckily, I pressed on and was rewarded with not just a great adventure story but also a poignant (albeit unusual) love story as well. That strange narration was indeed showing the reader something important—although I didn’t figure out what until two-thirds of the way through—and as Daisy spent more time amongst her British cousins and the edge of her character was honed by the trauma and hardships of war, I felt like I understood her more and more.
All of this is to say that while the stylistic choices Rosoff makes are often odd, they are purposeful and elevate this story to another literary level. She takes what could be just another post-apocalyptic, dystopian journey novel and turns it into a poignant examination of family, love, and loyalty in times of great distress. There is one sticking point to the story, however, and it comes from the romance between Daisy and her first cousin Edmond. For me, it was at first a little too Flowers in the Attic and incestuous, but by the end of the book, I totally bought how two people so isolated from society and thrown together in such extraordinary circumstances would fall in love, societal mores be damned. I think it’s a testament to Rosoff’s skill as a writer that their relationship is believable and even something to root for, despite its awkward and possibly unsavory beginnings.
How I Live Now was another Printz winner that seems to have a limited readership—fans of dystopias might pick it up, but it takes a pretty dedicated reader to look past the stylistic quirks and utterly grim storyline to see the beauty and hope of Rosoff’s tale. Additionally, I find it to be a book for older readers due to its intense themes and details. I’ve recommended it to several booklovers that I know and no one seems to have had quite the same reaction I did, but I’m going to continue to talk it up anyway because I think it is a really powerful book with important things to say.