It would be much easier to tell this story if it were all about a chaste and perfect love between Two Children Against the World at an Extreme Time in History. But let's face it, that would be crap.
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.
"Early the next morning I was strolling around as usual in my unpleasantly populated subconscious..."
-HOW I LIVE NOW (Ch 5, p. 17)
"I was wandering around as usual, in my unpleasantly populated subconscious..."
— Dodie Smith (I CAPTURE THE CASTLE)
I do hope Rosoff is paying homage to Smith's brilliant I CAPTURE THE CASTLE here. I'd like to think so, because HOW I LIVE NOW otherwise possesses a thoroughly original voice. If I really tried, I could summon up the similarities between these two novels: I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and HOW I LIVE NOW both have main characters whose voice renders them completely real as people, perhaps more than real. Both novels bring the English countryside (a la run down castle/manor) to life with glorious, ecstatic prose and touch on first love, albiet with rather unconventional love interests (bearded older man in love with sister/ cousin).
I first read HOW I LIVE NOW more than a year ago, when it was recommended to me by a friend (thanks, Vee!). I don't know what I was doing at the time, but for some reason, I didn't connect with the book. I barely remember reading it, though I do remember vaguely thinking "this is pretty good."
When I reread it yesterday, the aliveness and the vividness and the connection was there. As if this book had waited for me, patiently, resting in my bookshelf until the day I could pick it up in the right frame of mind and really appreciate it.
I appreciate it now.
HOW I LIVE NOW is one of the voice-iest YA novels I've ever read. The main character Daisy is humorous and LOUD and uninhibited and insightful. She narrates with run on sentences breathless with wit and CAPITALIZED WORDS to emphasize a point. There's not much dialogue, and the book is mostly her telling us what happened and what she thinks, but it works. It more than works.
At first, HOW I LIVE NOW has this sense of peacefulness (although mediated with Daisy's loudness) emanating through the pages. Her cousins, who she comes to live with in England, possess gifts that are related to us in a matter-of-fact tone but are actually quietly magical: Isaac and little Piper talk to animals, and Edmond can feel Daisy's thoughts. There's this light touch of magical realism when it comes to Daisy's interactions with her family, making everything feel sort of strange, but lovelily strange.
Later, Daisy falls in love with cousin Edmond, and though she acknowledges it's wrong, she talks of it as if it's inevitable and natural and effortless. I don't know if I really understood the Edmond/Daisy relationship. Was it just two alone souls reaching across to each other, yearning for love during a time of war? Was it lust? If Daisy is to be believed, this is love, though of an unorthodox kind.
Daisy and cousins spend a few golden months living without parental supervision (thanks to her Dear Aunt being stranded in Norway). They fish and swim and play and it's generally a bit like The Garden of Eden. War interrupts eventually, as it has a habit of doing. Daisy has hinted at it since the beginning. The enemy is unnamed, the public is confused, cites are bombed, people are dying. When war finally catches up, Daisy and her cousins are separated. There's death and violence, without sense or cause, graphic and mindless and sickening to read about. Daisy and her cousin Piper stick together, attempt to survive it all. It's here that Daisy comes into her own, and when I wanted to stand up and APPLAUD because she's so damn strong.
Really, the only problem I had with this book was the ending, and then the six-year jump that acted as an epilogue. The precursor to the time jump was abrupt and Rosoff, for whatever reason, had Daisy tell us about it only after it happened, which was disorienting to me. The six year-jump was interesting, especially since Rosoff matured Daisy's voice beautifully. But the ending almost felt almost like Rosoff laughing at us and saying "hey, these really cool and fascinating things happened, and sorry that you missed it, but here's this situation and ending that will hopefully tie things up for you."
Still, I really liked HOW I LOVE NOW. It's one of those books that's left an impression on me, one that I'll return to reread. Most notably, its narrator managed to escape its pages and become a part of me. I think that's when you know you've read a good book; when you can feel the edges of a character and the dimensions of his/her voice, and they've set up shop in your brain and they're as complete and solid to you as a person you might've talked to in real life.
Yes, I'm glad I reread HOW I LIVE NOW.
RECOMMENDATION: Highly recommended. It's a Printz winner, so I'm not the only one who thinks it's great.