Thursday, January 28, 2010

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Copyright 2004
Wendy Lamb Books - YA/Fiction/War
194 pages

How I Live Now is a book that has gotten such polarized reviews that I added it to my wish list, took it off, added it, took it off and finally decided I really did want to read the book. So, I ordered a copy and then stuck it on a shelf and ignored it. How rude.

A wonderful review at A Book Every Six Days finally convinced me to dig for my copy. A few days later, I located my copy on Grandpa's shelf (a shelf so named because my grandfather built it) and dragged the copy with me to Nashville during our Christmas break, where I opened it and read the book when Spellbinder wasn't holding my interest.

How I Live Now is a young adult novel told by Daisy in her own words. Daisy, an American, is fifteen when the story begins. She's been shipped off to England to live in the countryside with four cousins she has never met. Their mother -- apparently a single mother -- is some sort of politician or ambassador and she leaves on business within days. Then, war breaks out.

At first, as England is occupied by an unnamed enemy, the family is untouched. Power and phone lines fail, but the family lives on a farm and they're isolated enough that they're aware of what's going on, but they have better access to food and are safer than most. Those first few months of the war are almost idyllic for the cousins. Daisy falls madly in love with lanky Edmond, and they embark on a ridiculous sexual affair that everyone knows about but which makes her other cousins uncomfortable enough that they feel safe and happy in their blind love. And, then the reality of war arrives at the farm.

Daisy and her young cousin Piper are separated from the boys and an act of senseless violence brings home the reality of war. Daisy and Piper leave the house to which they were sent, determined to find Edmond and his twin, Isaac. It's been long enough that I can't recall the order of their travels, but I'm not so sure that matters. When they go off on their own, Piper and Daisy are constantly in danger. At some point, they end up in a barn with soldiers but the enemy attacks and they're helped by one young soldier they've befriended. He sends them off with a survival package.

This is the part I liked best -- when the two girls are forced to walk, hide, forage for food, deal with weather and illness and storms. It rang true to books I've read about survival during war -- constant fear, aching bellies, the feeling of having to live in the same filthy clothing for months, the insect bites and the knowledge that if they're found they could end up being raped or murdered. Daisy and Piper are already close, but become even closer as they're forced to rely upon each other.

There's a second section of the book that takes place some time after the war. Daisy hasn't seen her cousins for years. The aftermath of the war is explained in vague terms. How did Daisy end up in New York? What happened to Edmond, Isaac, Piper and Osbert? Did Aunt Penn ever make it back from Europe? The author made Daisy's thoughts a little more vague in this section and I didn't care for that. She's no longer a rambling teenager whose thoughts are read in run-on sentences. That's understandable; but, she dangles the reader a bit and the change in style reeked of "writing device" to me. I was disappointed with how that last section was written. But, I made a conscious decision to figure out what the heck had happened and fill in the rest of the blanks on my own.

In general, I loved How I Live Now.

4/5 - Immediate and visceral, sometimes painfully realistic, often uncomfortable. I loved the relationships, the characters and their idiosyncracies, the special abilities that eventually help two of the cousins to survive. While I disliked the vagueness of the latter section, it wasn't enough to totally ruin the book for me.

Woohoo! That's 6 reviews down, 4 to go. Although, actually, I finished Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott, last night, and I'm on the verge of finally finishing Veracity by Laura Bynum -- which I have found an engrossing read but dark enough that I've occasionally had to set it down and pick up something lighter to give me a break from the relentless horror of Bynum's dystopian world.

More reviews are coming, although I think I might stop to read for a bit. There's still a human behind these reviews, but I probably won't write a chatty post till I'm caught up, apart from this one tidbit:

An Update on Spellbinder: The teenager gave up on it. He said it wasn't keeping his attention. So, we're in agreement. Spellbinder is a "nyeh" book. The most recent book that truly captured Kiddo's interest? The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, a fantasy he described as "too complex to get into, but could you order me the rest of the books?" Apparently, The Demon King is the first in a series and the next has not yet been released, so he'll have to wait.

How is everyone doing? Feel free to drop by and tell me. It gets really quiet when I chug out reviews without babbling at the end of each of them. It's sunny and lovely in Vicksburg. Yesterday, I was bizarrely exhausted. Three espressos couldn't perk me up for more than 45 minutes, so I had a mostly-horizontal day. When I was up, I kept breaking things so Kiddo just kept shoving me toward the futon. It was pretty funny.

Off I go. Talk later!

Bookfool has trouble shutting up, you know.

23 comments:

  1. Welp, that's it. I'll skip Spellbinder, but How I Live Now sounds pretty amazing. I'm also curious to have your review on Stealing Heaven. I gave up on the author after I loathed Living Dead Girl and couldn't get into one other of her books.

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  2. Andi,

    Yeah, I think you can give it a skip. As to Elizabeth Scott . . I liked Stealing Heaven, but there were parts of it that made me want to scream and possibly hurt someone. The mother was incredibly irresponsible and wanted to hold her daughter back. And, then, toward the end it turned into a cancer book but fortunately the daughter stayed true to her mother but broke free. So, it was good in the long run, but I wanted to kill that mother when I got to the part about her letting some guy have sex with the daughter after he'd slept with her, the mother --- who obviously should have protected her child from statutory rape, not encouraged some guy to sleep with her kid.

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  3. How I Live Now sounds excellent! Will see if the library has it. Thanks!

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  4. Tara,

    I thought it was great. I read part of the book in Nashville and then finished it up with sick kitty sleeping on my lap. I think the kitty memory will stay attached to that book, as well. Hubby took an adorable picture of her sleeping with her nose tucked up while I read. :)

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  5. I feel like so many people are reading this book now! I haven't read it in quite a while, and don't remember it well. But I remember enjoying it.

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  6. Aarti,

    I suppose that's because we're influencing each other. Mine would have kept sitting on Grandpa's shelf for a while if Scriptor Senex hadn't given the book such a glowing review. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too!

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  7. I've debated about this one for some time. I've read several reviews with differing opinions, but I think I need to give it a try. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  8. Jenclair,

    See, I had that same problem. I debated so much, though, that I actually did put it on my wish list and then remove it twice. I'm glad I finally gave in and read it. Expect a bizarre, rambling style. The run-on sentences took some time to get used to, but I understood the author's intent was to get inside her character's head and once I got used to it, I started to really enjoy the story. I hope you like it if you do locate a copy!

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  9. How I Live Now sounds amazing. I hadn't heard of this one before. I'm woefully behind on my YA fiction!

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  10. Michelle,

    People seem to either love or hate How I Live Now. I'm closer to love. I've been in a serious YA mood, lately. You should definitely stop and grab a YA. Yep.

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  11. Survival during war sounds awful, but the book sounds good!

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  12. Kathy,

    It does indeed. That's why I like to read about war -- to remind myself how lucky we are to have never really experienced deprivation and anguish like people just a generation or two older than us lived through.

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  13. I'm in the minority about this one. Or maybe my particular copy is hexed. I sent it to Amanda, and she didn't like it, either.

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  14. Softdrink,

    I don't think you're in the minority at all. I'm seeing 50-50 -- very, very polarized reviews. And, while I enjoyed it, at the same time I understood why people might dislike it. That rambling style, the bizarre sexual attraction (you'd think that would have made me put the book down), the fact that the author could potentially be described as lazy for not choosing an actual enemy instead of leaving the invaders "unknown" . . . those things didn't escape my notice, but the book still grabbed me and held on. Weird.

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  15. I have an award for you here.

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  16. This is my favourite book by her. I read it a couple years ago and read everything else by her but one since.

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  17. Jennifer,

    Aw, thanks.

    Kailana,

    I don't think I loved this book enough to rush out and read everything she's ever written, but it's great to know this is her best. Maybe I'll just stop right here (at least for now - you know how many books I own).

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  18. I would like to get around to reading this one, but I didn't love the other book of hers I read, so who knows? I also didn't love Veracity but it's definitely a dark place!

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  19. Amy,

    Note that Kailana said she's read lots of her books but none so much as How I Live Now. You never know; you might like it. I enjoyed Veracity, but it was a hard read. Because it was so dark, I had to set it aside, now and then. There's only so much I can take of reading about a really awful, evil world.

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  20. I was pretty knocked out by How I Live Now. I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't that, but that was okay - it was pretty amazing! :)

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  21. Tiny,

    I didn't quite know what to expect, either. I read a lot of reviews but each one left me with different expectations. We're in agreement. I thought it was pretty amazing, too.

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  22. Well, you make it sound pretty good, so I'll think about reading it for the YA challenge!

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  23. J.T.,

    Well, I liked the book. :) I hope you do, too. I must say, I think it's tremendously fun reading about a book when it provokes strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. Reviews can be so much more interesting when they're polarized than when everyone gushes about a book, don't you think?

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