This is a fun day for me, personally, since I am excited to celebrate the book-day of one of my top favorite YA novels. I would like to take a moment to say what this book means to me personally!
In June 2006, I had decided to go back to school mostly for social reasons and because I have a huge love of learning. I went in as a history major, but ended up taking mostly theater, English, and writing courses. My first semester back at school I was fortunate to take a Young Adult Literature course. The teacher was a real sweetheart, and I am forever thankful to her for the list of books she provided us. I read Catcher in the Rye for the first time in that class; The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Shooter by Walter Dean Myers; A Hero Ain’t Nothing But A Sandwich; and even managed to finally get through A Wizard of Earthsea. We read more than a dozen YA novels, but of all the books that I read that fall, the one that I have passed around to my younger friends more than any other is Meg Rosoff‘s first novel, How I Live Now.
At first I wasn’t sure if I would like the novel. Of all the things, I wasn’t sure I could like a 15-year-old girl from Manhattan whose name was Daisy! :D But also, the story is told in first person without quotations when people were speaking. I remember thinking, “Is this a new style? What is the author trying to say by that?” I’m still not sure! But eventually the narrative voice of main character Daisy, a New Yorker sent to spend a summer with her cousins in England to get away from her evil stepmother, became so fluid in my mind that I can’t imagine that book being any other way. It was her story; she was telling it to me alone.
The first act sets up Daisy, her problems with eating, and her interactions with her aunt and four cousins. It’s a slightly uncomfortable yet dreamy world. One where adult supervision is lack, where twins seem to have telepathy and the little sister is curiously precocious (I’ve named characters in honor of this one!). It’s a world where Daisy finds herself falling in love with one of the boys. Incest is a touchy subject in stories especially in ones aimed at teenagers. While “back in the day” marrying your first cousin wouldn’t have seemed strange, today it skeeves people out. But the story, and Daisy’s telling of it, never made it come across as creepy. Edmond is around her age; the feelings are mutual; it never feels like one is taking advantage more than the other.
Then, Daisy’s magical, lazy-afternoon, love-filled world is shattered. While her Aunt is stranded working out of the country, terrorists attack and occupy England. The way that the war affects the children at first feels just as magical. They rise to the occasion, caring for themselves and each other. But soon, the war comes to their farm, and soldiers take over. Worse, they separate Daisy from Edmond. The boys and the girls are pushed off in different directions, yet always are searching to find their way back together.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment that made this book a favorite. But it was definitely somewhere in the third act. Was it the heartache in the scenes of destruction and death? Or Daisy’s loyalty as it shifts first from her first love with Edmond over to what I found to be a stronger, purer protective instinct for her cousin Piper? Or maybe it’s just that I love war stories and how they test the mettle of everyone in them… and sometimes you find your fortitude is great but for others it is less so.
Meg Rosoff has written a gorgeous war story set in a dystopian future that does not beat the reader over the head with this idea. Rather everything feels natural and possible even when the plots are at their most bizarre. These characters come to life and either embrace the beauty and writhe in the agony of it all.
Daisy is a character that has stood the test of time for me these 5 years. She is someone I absolutely looked up to as I read about her struggles, her passions, her courage. In the YA Lit course, of all the teenagers who learned about responsibility in the novels we read, Daisy rose to the challenge the most. I know that some of the material might be objectionable to some parents, but I cannot stress enough how much I recommend this book to both young men and women. Though perhaps especially for women, as Daisy is one of those rare jewels of a main character–I hope to see more like her in the future!
So if you love dark, heavy stories with unique characters and tense action… please, please, please give this multiple award-winning tale a read. Hunt it down at your local independent book store!
Also! A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to hear that How I Live Now is being made into a film! I don’t know how I missed this since it’s been announced since spring 2010. Check out Ms. Rosoff’s FAQ on the film for more info.
A VERY happy book birthday to How I Live Now, and congratulations to Meg Rosoff!