How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff (Penguin Books). When I first picked up this book and started reading, I sort of sighed a little bit to myself – a fifteen year old, female protagonist who narrates the story in her own rebellious, teenage vernacular. I know I’m only twenty-four, but I feel a little bit alienated by young female characters like that in books. A part of me tries to relate, but another part of me reels against them in an ‘I wasn’t like that when I was that age’ kind of way. This apprehension is also in part to do with the book I just gave up on halfway through a couple of days ago – a book narrated by a thirteen year old girl who speaks and acts like a 30 year old woman is just annoying. I won’t name and shame it here, but it made me a little bit cynical on picking up How I Live Now. In my experience, youthful female characters are often difficult to believe in, particularly if you used to be one of them yourself.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about this character, and this book. The dialogue, at first tricky to get used to, is beautiful and revealing – it is almost a stream of consciousness, that dips in and out of dialogue with the other characters. It lends a savage honesty and emotion to the main character, Daisy (whose real name is actually Elizabeth), without being typically angsty.
The book begins with Daisy arriving in England to live with her cousins, for reasons that I won’t get into now as they’re pretty integral to why Daisy is the way she is. A romantic bond begins to form between Daisy and Edmond, who she is convinced can read her mind. The magical atmosphere at the country house is stunningly evoked, with luscious descriptions of the gardens and vegetable patches, as well as an abundance of life, with dogs, sheep and goats milling around everywhere. It basically seems like exactly the kind of place you’d want to be when a war breaks out – which it does. When the children are ejected from their safe haven by burly army men, their relationships and strength are tested, and you find yourself clinging onto Daisy’s words for protection from the horrors that begin to unfold.
I’ll admit, a pattern is beginning to emerge now, but I promise I don’t only read books that have film adaptations! I actually haven’t seen this film, but when it came out suddenly people started raving about how amazing the book is, so now I’m jumping on the bandwagon!
The book is staggering, beautiful and thoughtful. Read it.
On the warm stone walls, climbing roses were just coming into bloom and great twisted branches of honeysuckle and clematis wrestled each other as they tumbled up and over the top of the wall. Against another wall were white apple blossoms on branches cut into sharp crucifixes and forced to lie flat against the stone. Below, the huge frilled lips of giant tulips in shades of white and cream nodded in their beds. They were almost finished now, spread open too far, splayed, exposing obscene black centers. I’ve never had my own garden but I suddenly recognized something in the tangle of this one that wasn’t beauty. Passion, maybe. And something else. Rage.
(You can read a bit about what the author thought of the film adaptation here.)
Branford Boase Award 2005
Michael L. Printz Award 2005
Der Luchs des Jahres Book Prize 2005
Julia Ward Howe Prize (Boston Authors Club) 2005