Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Author: Meg Rosoff
ISBN # 0141318015
211 pages
Publisher: Penguin
1st Published: 2004

Daisy is sent from New York to England to spend a summer with cousins she has never met. They are Isaac, Edmond, Osbert and Piper. And two dogs and a goat. She's never met anyone quite like them before - and, as a dreamy English summer progresses, Daisy finds herself caught in a timeless bubble. It seems like the perfect summer. But their lives are about to explode.

Falling in love is just the start of it. War breaks out - a war none of them understands, or really cares about, until it lands on their doorstep. The family is separated. The perfect summer is blown apart. Daisy's life is changed forever - and the world is too.

How I Live Now was short listed for the Orange Award for New Writers, but I’m not altogether sure why. It’s an unusual book with an unusual style, but I have to admit that it was this very style that jarred most with me. It’s written as a constant stream of thought from a 15-year-old girl’s mind with no quotation marks to distinguish dialogue from the rest of the text, which had me itching to take a red pen to the pages. The only indication that anyone’s speaking is when a Capital Letter suddenly appears mid-sentence, immediately preceded by “*insert character name here* said,” which can get annoying when you’re as anal about grammar as I am at times.

The story itself didn’t quite convince me either: A mother allowing her 14-year-old son to openly smoke and drive the family car from somewhere in the middle of the countryside to London and back to pick up her 15-year-old niece from the airport just didn’t feel right. Nor did this woman disappearing on a business trip abroad, leaving her four children and niece alone in the house seem like normal behaviour. But the aspect that disappointed me most wasn’t any of this; it was the inclusion of a stereotypical Wicked Stepmother, which I thought was rather a lazy plot device.

Then there was the outbreak of war, perpetrated by terrorists simultaneously on all continents – it just seemed a little too far-fetched that all airports would simply be shut down immediately with no effort to get people back to their own countries.

So, yes, I had a bit of a problem getting to grips with a lot of what happens in this book.

Its main redeeming feature is Rosoff’s refusal to romanticise or soften, in any way, the burgeoning relationship between Daisy and Edmond. The illicit, underage sex between cousins and then the formation of the bond between Daisy and Piper could have turned into so much sentimental sop, but it didn’t. It’s a bold, brave attempt at some realism within an unrealistic setting and that’s something rather admirable.

All in all, I did rather enjoy How I Live Now, although I’m not sure I quite got the point of it. Still, it’s worth a read just to see how much the portrayal of teen relationships has changed since the likes of Enid Blyton.

Rating: 6


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