I don’t often read YA fiction because of all the adult fiction I haven’t read yet. Last year I accidentally read some and wasn’t sure how to judge it. I couldn’t decide whether it was rubbish because it wasn’t well written or it was rubbish because my expectations were inappropriate for YA fiction. I didn’t have that problem with How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.
Daisy moves from New York to rural England to stay with her aunt as she’s having issues with her wicked step-mother. She finds an idyllic pastoral life with her three cousins and settles in quickly. Her Aunt Penn is some sort of international diplomat and never around. She falls in love with her cousin Edmond and begins to remember how to be happy.
Then a war breaks out and the kids don’t really know what’s going on, except that Penn is in Norway and can’t get back. They’re used to managing for themselves and for a while life goes on until their farm is requisitioned by the army. The boys are sent to one family and the girls to another. Daisy decides she’s going to take Piper, her youngest cousin, and make her way back to where Edmond and Osbert are staying.
The walk takes days and they’re hungry and dehydrated. They find the farm where the boys were staying and they’re gone, so the girls make their way home where they stay until Daisy’s father finds her and brings her back to New York.
Six years later, Daisy returns to the farmhouse and is reunited with her cousins. They are all dealing with the after effects of what they went through.
How I Live Now was June’s book club read and came to us via World Book Night. I didn’t expect to enjoy it but I found Daisy’s voice utterly engaging. There are some hard issues dealt with them in this book and the way they are handled is very clever. Younger readers might not pick up on them but older teenagers will. The world is convincingly bought to life, although the parts about New York don’t always ring true.
I found the ending a little weak, almost as if it was tagged on as an afterthought. The part where Daisy covers her years in New York after the events of the book seemed rushed and not as dense as the rest of the story. But ignoring that, the rest is excellent. I may not read more YA fiction because of it, but if I do I now have a benchmark. (For the record, what I had read previously was not nearly as good as this). I’ll be giving this book to a friend in the target demographic and I hope she enjoys it.