Sunday, October 12, 2008

HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
rating: 2 of 5 stars


Told from the point of view of 15-year-old Manhattan native Daisy, the novel follows her arrival and her stay with cousins on a remote farm in England.

Rosoff's story begins in modern day London, slightly in the future, and as its heroine has a 15-year-old Manhattanite called Daisy. She's picked up at the airport by Edmond, her English cousin, a boy in whose life she is destined to become intricately entwined. Daisy stays at her Aunt Penn's country farmhouse for the summer with Edmond and her other cousins. They spend some idyllic weeks together--often alone with Aunt Penn away traveling in Norway. Daisy's cousins seem to have an almost telepathic bond, and Daisy is mesmerized by Edmond and soon falls in love with him.

But their world changes forever when an unnamed aggressor invades England and begins a years-long occupation. Soon after Daisy settles into their farmhouse, her Aunt Penn becomes stranded in Oslo and terrorists invade and occupy England. When soldiers usurp the farm, they send the girls off separately from the boys, and Daisy becomes determined to keep herself and her youngest cousin, Piper, alive. Daisy and Edmond are separated, and Daisy and Piper, her younger cousin, must travel to another place to work. Their experiences of occupation are never kind and Daisy's pain, living without Edmond, is tangible.


Well, this is another award-winning book I didn't like. I'm starting to wonder if novels about dystopian futures are just generally lauded to make their reviewers seem wise and philosophical.

Rosoff's writing style is supposed to mimic the way a slightly psychologically disturbed 15 year old New Yorker would talk, at least in her head. I'm not certain as to whether this is an authentic teenage voice (none of the teens I've ever taught sounded like that), but Rosoff is skillful in that she never loses the reader. Consider the following example:

"So I sat down and wrote back all about Edmond and Piper and Isaac and the animals and the house and the war, and I made it sound even better than it actually was, and by the time I finished the letter I'd convinced myself that This Was the Life oh yes and Boy Had I Lucked Out. But it's easier said than done to convince yourself that god has smiled on you when the actual fact is that you're living with strangers due to the evil workings of your wicked stepmother not to mention your official next of kin."

The entire book reads this way, in its jumble of run-on sentences and Making Something Sound Important by capitalizing the letters. This writing style, at once raw and whimsical, is the best part of the book. There were entire chapters in which I was carried along by the language, only to arrive at the chapter's end wondering what the hell just happened in the plot or with character development.

There are sudden and incongruous plot jumps, character development that moves forward and backward in weird, jerking shoves, not to mention details that try early in the book to establish the date but disappear by the end. (No one restores email, for instance, after the worst of the war threats are passed.)

One of the stickiest points in the book for me is Daisy's relationship with her cousin Edward. She says in Chapter 10, "[n:]ow let's try to understand that falling into sexual and emotional thrall with an underage blood relative hadn't exactly been on my list of Things to Do while visiting England....." By the end of the chapter, she writes that she was blameless of corrupting her year-younger cousin because he is "not corruptible." And that's it.

I understand that Rosoff wants to examine the natural occurrence of morals, the theme of a postmodernist Eden. I also know that as late as the early 20th century it was not wholly uncommon for distant cousins to wed. Still. How do I say this? It just grosses me out. I'm not alone in this - several teen reviewers I read agreed.

Overall, the book achieved what a book like Tithe was reputed to do, which is to be dark and bleak and depressing. How I Live Now is a book about what Eden would have been like with no future, no hope. However, the reason I would tell you not to read it is the overall lack of cohesion and fractured plot.

OTHER REVIEWS: Megan at Leafing Through Life, Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot

READ INSTEAD: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


  1. Okay, not one I'm going to like... but that might just be a 'me' thing. I also didn't like Catcher in the Rye and everyone else on the planet loved it, but I hated the writing. I get that he was telling it from Holden's perspective, but there were very few redeeming qualities for me in the actual writing... a few golden lines that I loved, but on the whole I didn't think it was nearly as great as everyone else seemed to... I read it again a few years ago to see if maybe my judgement back then was wrong - nope, still hate it.

  2. No, no, no! :-) - this is a brilliant book - and it's brilliant because it's unexpected and challenges our perceptions. I admit, when I first picked it up and started reading it I thought "Urgh!", then I started to get into it and by the time I was finished and had sat back and reflected on it for a few days, I realised that Rosoff had achieved something quite remarkable. I think the stream of consciousness writing is initially difficult to get into, and the grittiness of the story can take some getting used to. But this is her voice, her other books are not dissimilar. She's not afraid to deal with tough topics, challenging topics and she's not afraid to write in a way that takes some digesting and reflection. You need to reflect when you read her books. They're not easy, or "fun" reads, but her books are deeply thought provoking and for that reason they are well worth reading - and re-reading.
    Well, that's my two cents worth anyway, which, given inflation etc... :-)

  3. Awww no you di'nt - girl, you did NOT just accuse me of not being a thinker. Dang, Absolute, I thought we was tight, my Kidnapped lover!

    Seriously, no one's ever told me I don't think enough about things :) I'm having an out of body experience.

    I still have to disagree. I think Rosoff did an awesome job crafting her actual language, but I still think the overall execution (possibly the conception) was faulty.

    But I've gotten a copy of "Just in Case" to see broaden my experience of Rosoff. :)

  4. Great review. I really didn't like this book either. It was just awful hard for me to read. I wrote a review on How I Live Now, would you mind linking to it, please?



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