Meg Rosoff’s book has achieved great acclaim, with both the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the American Printz Award under it’s belt. I probably should have heard of it. But up until two weeks ago I hadn’t really. Well, it’s now being made into a film starring Saorse Ronan, and it was this advert appearing on my TV that made me go ‘well that looks rather good’. My sister piped up to say she’d read it and it was okay and yes you should read it but I can’t give it to you because it was borrowed. Fabulous. And so, being kinda mesmerised by the beauty of the advert (which I have now watched well over a dozen times) and her brief synopsis (I don’t really have a problem with spoilers- sometimes they warn you against a book that only crashes and burns from halfway through) I went ahead and bought it on kindle. Side note: I shouldn’t be allowed a kindle. The idea that I can just go, ‘yeah, I fancy that book’ and have it in about 30 seconds is not good for my bank account.
So, with the book on my device and Catherine’s warning that she had read it when she was about 14 and so don’t blame her when it sucked, I plowed ahead with my new book. And it started off… interestingly. That’s the only word I really have for it. I wouldn’t say it was bad necessarily, but it wasn’t easy to read either. The narrator, a 15 year old American named Daisy, has a tendency to run her extraordinarily long sentences together with very little punctuation. It’s almost stream of consciousness except the plot is far more planned out. I have to admit to googling the book after about ten pages to see whether or not the syle of writing ever got easier. Heads up – it doesn’t; I know, I sighed too when I found out. In the end though, it wasn’t as bad as all that. After a while Daisy became a lot easier to follow and I actually stopped noticing the strange style of narrative. At points I was even glad of it as her thought-by-thought descriptions added a sense of pace and desperation to some of the scenes that had my heart racing along with hers.
Once you get past the writing style I have to admit that Meg Rosoff really is a good author. The story follows Daisy, an anorexic 15 year-old New Yorker sent to live with her cousins in the English countryside. Although she initially finds her new surroundings strange, she soon finds a place amongst her eccentric cousins, especially Edmond who she quickly becomes infatuated with. But then Daisy and her idylic new life are turned upside down when Britain is invaded during World War 3. Having been split up from the boys, Daisy and 9-year-old Piper try and find their way home, whilst still trying to survive.
Okay, okay, I’ll talk about it. There is incest. Daisy falls in love with her cousin. Yes, it’s weird. Deal with it. It isn’t as though this weirdness isn’t addressed in the book – she spends a good part of the early chapters trying to understand what she is feeling, fully aware of the fact that people don’t normally fall in love with their cousins. She thinks it’s weird too guys! And to be honest, I think people focus on the incest far too much with this book – there are much bigger issues discussed later on: survival, the cruelty of war, how to handle loss, family, forgiveness, the difficulty in finding a place you truly belong. To me it is these ideas, Daisy’s realisation that her cousins are where she feels at home and her determination to get that feeling back, that are the parts of this book we should be talking about. True, Daisy is far from perfect; she is stubborn, selfish, often naive, but then what else would you expect from a 15-year old? Her perseverance and pragmatic hopefulness make her a inspiration.
I am so very glad that I read this book. It surprised me. It made me think about ideas that I never wanted to have to think about. It made me question how I would survive in that situation. And the end made me cry. Absolutely uncontrollable floods of tears – and let me tell you that doesn’t happen very often. How I Live Now is not escapism, it was difficult and uncomfortable – raw even. But I think it is a book that will stay with me for a long time, and has changed the way I look at a lot of thing’s in life. And because of that I think everyone should at least try and read it.
Learn to love your life – because you don’t know how quickly it could change.
~ Becca x
P.S: Go watch the trailer
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Pictures from megrosoff.co.uk and saoirseronan.info