My most recent book giveaway produced three contestants: my friend Yvonne V, who (I'm sure) commented briefly to help me start things off (and whose debut YA novel, PANDEMIC, can now be pre-ordered from Amazon and will be buyable in brick-and-mortar bookstores in May, and I insist that you do one or the other because it will be brilliant); BookNut, the winner, a most welcome second member of my blog's Pakistan Fan Club; and Sharksmart, who didn't win, but who did such an admirable job as runner-up that I decided to send her a consolation prize out of my stash of YA and MG novels I've already read. After some consultation with her, I guessed that she would like Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW (which, as you've probably heard, is currently being made into a movie), so I sent her my copy, and Eureka!! I was right! I've been emailing back and forth with Sharksmart, who is really a recent college graduate named Dana, and she sent me an unsolicited review of the book, and I liked it so much that I decided to post it on my blog. So, voila! My first guest review post! And I believe that in future, I'll offer this option to all winners of my book giveaway contests, because it's very nice of you to read my blog and all, but you probably wouldn't mind hearing from someone else once in a while, am I right? I'm a firm believer in spreading the love. Thank you, Dana, for helping me kick off something newish! Without further ado:
DANA'S REVIEW OF MEG ROSOFF'S 'HOW I LIVE NOW'
“How I Live Now” begins with 15 year-old Daisy’s father and stepmother shipping her off to the England to live with her aunt and cousins on an isolated farm. Just as she’s starting to embrace her eccentric cousins and feel loved, World War III breaks out and changes everything.
The plot of “How I Live Now,” isn’t all that original or complex, but what this novel lacks in plot is more than made up for in stunning writing and characters. The narrative is an enthralling blend of stream-of-consciousness run-on sentences and a conversational tone that makes it seem like Daisy is sitting with the reader and telling them the story—and she’s the type of story-teller where her voice and her story flow so well that you don’t want her to stop (i.e. this book is hard to put down!). Unusual capitalization made the writing unique and more expressive by creating proper nouns (“She stared at me with the Family Stare, the one that normal people don’t ever do…” pg 61), and by adding emphasis (…”I got another one of those feelings you’re not supposed to get from your cousin and I wondered What Was Happening Here...” pg 44). The descriptions are always vivid and often poetic, such as when Daisy experiences “a feeling flying between us in a crazy jagged way like a bird caught in a room” when she sits next to Edmond with her leg against his (pg 44).
Daisy is great as a character. She has a lot of snarky and witty lines, and doesn’t “get nearly enough credit in life for all the things [she manages] not to say” (pg 77). She also genuinely sounds like a young teen when she thinks about things, such as how fun it is—despite a war going on—that her aunt has left her and her cousins with no adult supervision. The cousins were great too: Osbert is the self-important older brother. Piper, the youngest, is an adorable pixie. Isaac and Edmond are twins, the former quiet with a special connection to animals, the latter sweet and caring. The three younger cousins have a telepathic-like ability, and Daisy and Edmond form a telepathic-like bond as they grow closer.
I read some reviews for this book where people were grossed out by, or didn’t understand the author’s inclusion of, Daisy and Edmond’s sexual relationship since they’re cousins, but it didn’t bother me. Daisy herself recognizes that it's something they're not supposed to do, but says that she was “coming around to the belief that whether you liked it or not, Things Happen and once they start happening you pretty much just have to hold on for dear life and see where they drop you when they stop” (pg 47). I think the author’s point was that, in certain situations, such as in the midst of war, you don’t always control what happens, and you just need to go with it and do what seems right at the time even if it isn’t “right” in the usual sense.
When the war starts to encroach on their isolated farm and ultimately separates the cousins (Piper and Daisy are sent to one farm, Isaac and Edmond another, while Osbert gets some sort of military job), life quickly goes from inconvenienced-by-the-war to dire and desperate. Daisy and Piper end up surviving in the wilderness on their own while trying to find the farm Edmond and Isaac were sent to. One night, they’re woken by screams in their heads which, because of the telepathic connection between the kids, is an obvious indication that something horrific is happening around, or to, Edmond and Isaac. The rest of the story deals with finding out who survives and what happened in the aftermath of the war. The last few chapters are a very poignant and heartbreaking demonstration of how war affects people and their relationships, though the novel does end on a hopeful note.
Overall, a very powerful story with characters who stay with you even after you’re finished.