How I Live Now has appealed to me for a while now, and while I did enjoy it, I have some reservations. I liked the modern war-time setting, the imagined Third World War and the story of a group of youngsters struggling to survive in a war-torn country with nobody to look after them. However my central complaint, isn’t to do with the love story as many other people’s is, but instead to do with the writing style. Still, as it is a quick, enjoyable and sometimes quite tense read, so I would not say that it was a bad book.
The central character of this novel is Daisy, an American fifteen year old who has ben sent by her father to stay with her Aunt Penn and cousins in England. It is no secret that the world is on the brink of a war, but unfortunately, the outbreak strikes when the youngsters, Daisy, and her four cousins Osbert, Edmond, Isaac and Piper, are home alone, with Aunt Penn abroad for work. They are alone in their farmhouse and at first, have a great time, not worried at all about the war which is miles away, but eventually as the war escalates, they are separated and the book follows Daisy as she struggles to get herself and Piper reunited with the rest of their family.
I thought that Daisy was an interesting character to follow, not because she was particularly likable, but because Rosoff made no attempts to hide that Daisy can be quite selfish and rude at times. Daisy constantly writes about her father and stepmather being evil and hating her, but I suspect this is a little bit of that good old unreliable narrator peeping through, as at the end of the novel, it is made clear that Daisy’s father has been searching for her in order to bring her home. Also, it is clear that Daisy has an eating disorder, which Rosoff approached brilliantly, as Daisy’s eating habits were not her sole defining feature, unlike other fictional characters with similar conditions who are often reduced to their illness. However, although Daisy says that she wanted to be thin, she also remarks that she was afraid of her stepmother poisoning her. All in all, I thought that Rosoff wrote about Daisy’s complexities and layers brilliantly, letting us slowly into the workings of her mind whilst never telling us the whole truth, what was real and what was a figment of Daisy’s imagination.
The main complaint that I seem to have seen regarding this book is the love story component of the book, in which Daisy falls in love with her cousin. I admit, I did find it weird, and although I could sense that something would happen between the two, I was still shocked when the book actually went there. Although I was never fully comfortable with this storyline, I do appreciate that Rosoff did not sensationalise it and turn it into a sordid Jaime-and-Cersei-Lannister type of thing. Above all however, I can look past the romantic story that I didn’t feel completely okay with and look at the bigger picture, that the story is about the relationship between Daisy and all of her cousins; the love story, despite being important for Daisy, is not the only thing that we focus on, for example, I loved her relationship with Piper, her youngest cousin, of whom she is very protective, best of all, and the development of Isaac’s character at the end of the book.
However, the shortcoming of this book, in my opinion, was the writing style. I accept that Rosoff was trying to capture the voice of a young girl, but I did not like the rambling sentences that seemed to go on for pages at a time and just felt messy and unorganised. I just felt like Daisy had never been taught about punctuation in her life, even though by the time I was fifteen I had been through several years of schooling where I was told exactly was a full stop and a comma were for. This was true in particular for the beginning of the book, as the long sentences seemed to fit more as the book became more tense and dramatic, but not for the first half of the book where the characters were living a blissful, calm countryside life. I often thought how much I wished the book had been written better, and that that would have made it into a real masterpiece, but alas, I would not say that the less than perfect writing style overshadowed the story or the characters, which were what kept me reading.
Overall, How I Live Now, despite not being perfect, did impress me. I do not tend to like young adult or romance books, but I decided to read this because I love war and survival stories and dystopian fiction. Rosoff got the perfect balance of the different elements of the story, not focusing too much on the intricacies of war to the detriment of the characters, but not making romance overpower the strength of the relationships between all of the characters. So, although this book is not perfect, I would not hesitate to recommend it.