Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.
As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.
This summer I started doing more fitnessy activities not in an attempt to lose weight or clear my prematurely blocked arteries but in response to the plethora of Young Adult Dystopian Novels that led me to question whether I could a) win the Hunger Games b) jump from a moving train with my Dauntless buddies c) take out an alien with a swift kick to the face and then evade their hot spaceship pursuit. The answers to these questions are a) no b) no c) no.
Young Adult Dystopian Novels forced me to stare fate straight in the eye: if removed from my cushy existence by a twist of apocalyptic fate, I would die. I would die every single time.
Refusing to accept this, I began a workout regimen to guarantee my survival. But then I read How I Live Now and my resolve is weakening. Because Daisy, who charmingly narrates her experiences during a world war, is no Teen Action Hero. She reacts how the vast majority of us would in dire circumstances: not by staging a coup or leading the resistance, but by surviving as best as she can. Now I’m left wondering if my pushups and jogs are even worth anything—if the world fell apart, I’d probably just stay in my basement trying to stop my towering piles of canned goods from toppling over. And face it: so would you.
So that’s what’s so refreshing about this novel. It’s about normal people. The people that most of us would be during all out world war. The people simply trying to survive. That’s Daisy’s story. It’s a story of survival in extreme circumstances and then learning to accept those circumstances as her life forevermore. After finishing the novel, I can’t help but wonder whether humankind’s immense adaptability is a strength or a weakness. It’s wonderful how Daisy and so many others find new ways to live after catastrophe, but isn’t it sad how quickly we humans adapt to a less than perfect world? How easily content we become with nothing?
Meg Rosoff is an excellent writer and demonstrates her skill most readily with Daisy’s voice. The novel is first person with Daisy recounting her experiences after the fact. The most incredible thing? Daisy actually sounds like a teenager. Aside from one too many SAT words, How I Live Now truly reads like a teenager talks. Daisy’s narration is witty (suggesting that we can find humor even in the darkest moments) and her experiences are recorded in the same way she might have submitted an essay to her English teacher on the first day of school titled “What I Did During Summer Vacation [When Bombs Hit Britain and This Manhattanite Was Stuck On the Wrong Side of the Atlantic During World War Three With My Very Hot Cousin].”
I’ve seen many reviewers object to the novel’s incestuous relationship. The incest is quite secondary and it’s included in the plotline to show how something scandalous in normal times is entirely irrelevant—even laughably unimportant—in times where people care more about 1. dying in a nuclear attack 2. dying by gunfire 3. dying from starvation 4. dying from infection 5. DYING.
“I guess there was a war going on somewhere in the world that night but it wasn’t one that could touch us.”
How I Live Now may have destroyed any motivation I had to go running tomorrow, but I’m glad I read it. I want to read more books—especially in YA—about the people who aren’t overtly special, who aren’t the Chosen Ones. Daisy is a normal teenage girl facing an extraordinary situation. She is a reminder that life persists even in epochs of death.
3.5 out of 5 stars
PS There is a film adaptation coming soon starring the lovely Saoirse Ronan. The movie Daisy seems to be more badass than she was in the book, but it was the film’s approaching release date that urged me to read this sooner rather than later and I’m happy I did.