I didn’t start reading How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff with very high expectations. The cover was kind of teen cheesy with flowers and butterflies and I took the small size and length to mean that it was going to be a lightweight of a story. How I Live Now surprised me by writing in a voice that was both snarky worldly teen and wise and bittersweet at the same time.
Typical New Yorker Daisy is sent to live with her aunt and cousins in the English countryside after her father’s new wife becomes pregnant exacerbating the already high tensions between Daisy and the woman she nicknamed Davina the Diabolical. Her new family and life in the countryside couldn’t be further than her NY city lifestyle of shrinks, shopping, and food delivery places. Her Aunt Penn’s home is a fantastically crumbling large country home filled with an assortment of animals and her fey cousins Piper, Edmond, Isaac and oldest brother Osbert. She adapts to their idyllic pastimes and unconventional upbringing more easily than she could expect and doesn’t find it strange that Aunt Penn leaves all the kids to go off on a peace mission to Norway. Aunt Penn’s work is very important as there is a war to avert.
One of the interesting things the author does is to never actually identify who the enemy is and what their motivations are, instead as seen through the eyes of 15 year old Daisy the actual details of a potential world changing event are not nearly as important as the kids’ daily activities and her growing relationship with Edmond. Not long after Aunt Penn’s departure, war actually breaks out, but out in the countryside the little family feels distant from the news of bombs and poisoned water supplies. The war is only finally made real to this family when military personnel show up and requisition the home to house a military unit and the cousins and animals are split up and sent to live in separate villages. What happens in the war is both what we imagine happens in wartime and in other ways in not all what we expect in a war.
When a tragic event happens, a determined Daisy and Piper set off to reunite with the others on a harrowing journey.
Wars are grim affairs, but Daisy’s inner dialogue had me snorting with laughter. There is none of the usual stilted teen dialogue in this book; instead her thoughts are funny, insightful, honest and heartbreakingly real. Usually the concept and plot are what attracts me to dystopian fiction, but in this case the writing style of this beautifully told story won my heart and I would happily read any genre that Meg Rosoff chooses to write about.