Wednesday, 3 July 2013

How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff

15 year old Daisy is sent from New York to rural England to go and live with her mystery Aunt and four Cousins, who are pretty much complete strangers to her. Daisy's Dad and his horrible wife are having a new baby and they don't want the problematic Daisy in the way, with her attitude and her problems. Elsewhere, speculation about A War is rife- will there or won't there be one?

Daisy settles in to rural life quickly, considering her urban background- swimming in streams, playing with the collies, sleeping in barns and drinking All The Tea. It's all very idyllic, almost Famous Five type wholesomeness for a while. The bonds that she develops with her cousins are incredibly strong very quickly, particularly with the enigmatic Edmond, with whom she begins a brief and particularly intense affair. Daisy's aware he's a blood relative and is in her words "a bit too related", but in such turbulent times there's very few people around to disapprove. I was surprised at how not gross their technically incestuous relationship was. Reading it, Edmond felt so detached from normality, sort of otherworldly, that it's hard to imagine him being related to anyone. After a few short weeks living in glorious adult-free rustic bliss, The War breaks out, shattering Daisy's new family and changing the way that everybody lives forever.

What is most striking about this particular book is the strength of the Voice of 15 year old narrator Daisy. So many authors have tried to capture the thought and speech of teenage characters and the result often feels strangely lacking. Not here. Rosoff really has a knack for making the reader see this unusual albeit mysterious war through the eyes of teenagers. The way the characters live in partial ignorance of the war I think is accurate- they carry on as normal, knowing that This is happening somewhere far away-ish and knowing it's killing a lot of people, but it's always possible to sort of ignore something until it lands on your own doorstep and explodes into your own life. The collapse of the adult world seen through the eyes of teenagers was very believable- they're unaware of the political and social causes of The War, so the reader never finds out either.

Personally, I always love narratives that depict the crumbling of a civilisation. I love to see how long it takes for all social structures to disintegrate completely- The Death of Grass and Day of the Triffids are two of my all time favourite books for this reason. Rosoff does an excellent job of describing the panic and the fear that would certainly take hold of rural communities and the vain efforts of certain social groups to hold reality together, or deny the collapse of life as they know it. It's not The Road, this makes up only a small part of the overall narrative, but the descent into lawlessness is handled convincingly, full of suspense and trauma.

The reader can infer from Daisy's narrative that she suffers from some sort of eating disorder, presumably Anorexia, though she never refers to it explicitly. She explains to her cousin that the feeling of hunger to her represents a type of control and a way of irritating her father and the army of psychiatrists and therapists that he throws at her. It doesn't feel tacked on, like so many 'issue' driven novels, but forms an integral part of Daisy's character- it's just there and she deals with it daily. It's probably part of the reason she got sent to England, and it's certainly the reason she gets out.

Overall, a brilliant example of excellent writing for Young Adult audiences- the Voice of Daisy pitched just right for a 15 year old girl, dry humour, resignation to her predicament, spirit, stubbornness. It asks questions, it's thought provoking, there's love, loss, War, tragedy, there's enough suspense and drama to drive the plot and the sheer strength of the link that's evident between Edmond and Daisy make this novel so, so engaging. Loved it.

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