“How I Live Now” tells the story of Daisy. She is 15 and has traveled from New York to rural England to stay with her aunt, the sister of the mother who died when she was born, and her cousins. Daisy is not sorry to leave New York. Her stepmother, who she does not get on with, is pregnant and her father has little time for her.
Daisy settles well into a very different world. She learns more about her mother from her Aunt Penn and she fits in well with her cousins: Osbert, the eldest, who feels some responsibility for the rest but can’t be troubled to do much about it; Piper, the youngest, who welcomes her new relation; and twins Isaac, who seems to be able to talk to animals but is strikingly wordless among people, and Edmond, who is “not exactly what you’d expect from your average fourteen year old” and who Daisy quickly falls in love with.
The book quickly changes tone when an unspecified enemy invades England. This happens while Aunt Penn away and the family spend several months without adult supervision. They manage well though and Daisy and Edmond’s relationship develops and becomes sexual.
Eventually the military takes over the farm. Daisy and Piper are separated from Edmond and his two brothers and sent to another part of the country. The two girls are sent to work at a farm, where Piper uses their dog to herd cows, and Daisy picks apples and plums with other fruit pickers.
An incident leads to a revolt led by vigilantes in the area. A friend informs Daisy and Piper that it is not safe to stay and they are taken away by a group of soldiers. But they are discovered by the terrorists, and the two cousins are forced to flee. A gives them provisions and directions home. Thus, the girls start on a long, hard journey. They run short of food and they see bodies left to lie and other signs of the damage of war on their journey.
Finally they arrive home. They find means of survival, but no signs of Edmond, Osbert or Isaac. Daisy is disappointed and feels like she can’t feel Edmond with her anymore, spiritually, and is terrified at the notion that perhaps he died, which is why he is no longer with her.
One day, the phone rings for the first time since war broke out. It is Daisy’s father and he swiftly organizes her journey home using his ‘international connections’.
The story jumps forward – six years later Piper sends Daisy a letter. Daisy travels back to England, where she finds that, although Aunt Penn died trying to get home to her family, Osbert, Isaac and Piper have now found their paths in life.
Edmond is different though. He is angry and distant, scarred by the things he has seen and the belief that Daisy has abandoned him.
Daisy finds the courage to tell Edmond that she loves him and explain what happened to her. And it seems that she will break through and that maybe they will build a future together ….
Meg Rosoff’s writing is beguiling and maddening at the same time.
She can create wonderful characters and portray their emotions and bring their world to life.
But long sentences with total lack of punctuation for dialogue and many CAPITALS FOR EMPHASIS take some getting used to. It feels right though, particularly when the style changes as the story takes its six year jump forward. Still it does makes reading hard work.
And, while the storyline is engaging, it is unbelievable in places.
A flawed but interesting debut novel.