Jan 19, 2009

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Fifteen-year-old Daisy, the narrator of this story, is sent from New York to England to spend the summer with her maternal aunt and her cousins. Daisy’s mother died when she was born, and Daisy feels unwanted by her father and his new wife. When she arrives in England she’s picked up at the airport by her cousin Edmond, with whom she quickly develops a connection so strong she often feels he’s reading her mind. She also quickly grows to love her aunt Penn and her cousins Piper and Isaac.

Shortly after Daisy’s arrival, a war begins. Her aunt is out of the country when it happens, so for a while Daisy and her cousins are left to live an idyllic life, roaming the countryside, swimming in the river, sleeping in the barn at night, and generally not being told what to do. They manage to ignore the war for some time, but the fact that they're unsupervised is eventually discovered. They are separated, and begin to truly experience the consequences of war.

I absolutely loved this book. I think my favourite thing about it is the writing. Daisy is a wonderful narrator, and there’s so much in both what she says and what she isn’t saying. I wouldn’t exactly call her unreliable, but you can tell from the beginning that there are things she is keeping to herself. This changes as the story progresses. Daisy’s honesty and confidence increase, and the writing style changes to reflect this.

For example, the book is divided in two parts. In the first part, which is most of the book, there are barely any commas, and Daisy sounds almost desperately urgent. In the second part, however, normal punctuation is resumed, and Daisy sounds much more self-assured. All the things she went through allowed her to realize who she is, what she loves, where she belongs. And her voice shows that.

This is partially a story about war, but it’s so full of tenderness and love. We are never given any details about the war, and in this case I don’t think it’s so much because Daisy is not telling us but because she, as well as the rest of the characters, are not quite sure what’s going on. And this makes sense, because what matters for the story is not the specificities of war, but its consequences for the lives of ordinary people. And those are remarkably similar no matter the specific causes.

So more than about war, How I live Now is about love and survival and growing up and learning to live with what was lost, with what was seen, with what can no longer be helped. I found the ending absolutely beautiful. It added so much to my appreciation of what was already a lovely book. Since Daisy is the narrator, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that she survives the war. And with that in mind, I’ll share this wonderful passage from the very ending, which sums up what is for me at the core of the book and doesn’t give anything away:
…saved from the ravages of war by stubbornness and ignorance and an insatiable hunger for love.
Other favourite passages:

It was the first time in as long as I could remember that hunger wasn’t a punishment or a crime or a weapon or a form of self-destruction.
It was simply a way of being in love.
Sometimes I thought hours had passed when really it was minutes. Sometimes we fell asleep and then woke up to finish where we’d left off. Sometimes I felt like I was being consumed from within like a person with one of those freak diseases where you digest your own stomach. And sometimes we had to stop, just because we were raw and exhausted and still humming humming humming with something we didn’t even have the strength left to do anything about.

I was Piper’s guardian now and I thought I’d better act like it and make it clear to her that she was safe with me no matter what. And the thought made me fierce and strong like a mother wildebeest and all of a sudden I knew where people got the strength to pick up cars with babies lying under them which I always thought was made up.

If you haven’t been in a war and are wondering how long it takes to get used to losing everything you think you need or love, I can tell you the answer is no time at all.

After that day, I could barely enter the garden without a huge effort of will. The air was suffocating, charged, the hungry plants sucking at the earth with their ferocious appetites. You could almost watch them grow, pressing their fat green tongues up through the black earth. They emerged selfish and starving, gasping for air.

Other Blog Reviews:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
The Written World
Leafing Through Life
Out of the Blue
Bending Bookshelves
A Striped Armchair
Bold Blue Adventure
In Spring it is the Dawn
Some Reads
The Written Word
Presenting Lenore
The Compulsive Reader
Adventures in Multiplicity
Miss Print
“Fiddle-de-dee’s not English”
Valentina's Room
Jenny's Books
Ink and Paper
In Search of Giants
Bart's Bookshelf
Tip of the Iceberg
where troubles melt like lemon drops
The Bluestocking Society

(Please let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. I've read this a while ago and really liked it but I returned it to the library before reviewing it, silly me! so I won't read yours in case I get influenced by your thought for my review:P but I'm sure I agree!

  2. Great review - you've made me want to read the book.

  3. Great review! Makes me want to read the book again. I read this before it was published and really, really loved it.

  4. i've got this one on my list. I can't wait to read it!

  5. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous cover ...

  6. Great book, huh? I was really surprised how much I ended up liking it!

  7. Wow! I'm impressed. It sounds like a great story and the cover is very pretty too!!!

  8. Great review, Nymeth! This sounds like a wonderful read to me... I'd have to check it out. I love the cover, it's so pretty!

  9. Sounds an amazing book, it's on my TBR list. Thanks for the review, the quotes you picked were just gorgeous!

  10. I've been wanting to read this one for so so long. Hopefully I'll get to it soon. It sounds fabulous! Don't forget to link your review to the challenge review website so that you're eligible for prizes!

  11. I have this book on my TBR pile. It was a suggestion from Nat which made me buy it a while ago. I am going to bring it to the top.
    As always, thank-you for the review

  12. Great review! I thought this was a well-thought out book full of interesting characters, but it kind of seemed to me that the very ending didn't mesh quite right. Not that I could think of a better way for it to end. But definitely a writer to watch!

  13. Oh, it sounds very interesting. On the list it goes!

  14. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kind of like an unreliable narrator now and then. I guess maybe it just keeps it interesting--a little more thinking? Anyway--I've heard good things about this one. Glad you liked it, too.

  15. I have this one on my wish list. It sounds so good!

  16. This book is one that Nick Hornby discusses in Polysyllabic Spree. Now I MUST read it!

  17. Oh Nymeth, Nymeth, Nymeth...what a beautiful review!!! I soooo need to finish up the pile of books I'm currently reading...I want to read this one right NOW. (And Nation, too.)

  18. I like how you mentioned the way the protagonist has changed from Part 1 to Part 2. I hope to read this one day. Thanks for the review!

  19. You know, I think I'm the only person out there who didn't really care for this. It was okaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy, but I was fairly meh about it.

  20. Valentina: lol, fair enough :P I look forward to your review!

    Bermudaonion: I really hope you enjoy it!

    Michelle: I'll definitely be reading it again someday too. Have you read any of her other books? I've also heard great things about What I was.

    Tricia, I look forward to your thoughts!

    Loren Eaton: Isn't it? And the content matches it in my opinion.

    Kailana: My expectations were high to begin with, but I think I ended up liking it even more than I thought I would.

    Ladytink: I really love the cover too :)

    Melody. I really hope you enjoy it!

    Charley: I really did :)

    Alexa: The writing really is gorgeous, isn't it? I hope you enjoy the book.

  21. Chris: It's entered :) And I really think you'll enjoy this.

    Madeleine: I really hope you enjoy it. I thought it was such a great story.

    Kim: The ending was different from what I was expecting (I sort of feared the worse, if you know what I mean), but I was glad to have been surprised. It made me look at everything they went through in a different way.

    Robin, I think you'd enjoy it!

    Trish: I know what you mean. Unreliable narrators can be so great. Like in The Remains of the Day, where you have to pay at least as much attention to what Stevens doesn't say, to what he brushes aside, as to what he actually says. Books with unreliable narrators are always subtle, and I love subtlety. And like you said, they demand a little more thinking, and that's always fun.

    Literary Feline, I hope you enjoy it too :)

    Jenclair: He does! I had forgotten about that.

    Debi: lol, I hope you finish the pile soon! Because if you don't, there's a basement somewhere with your name on it :P

    Alice: I thought that was so interesting! It's a subtle way of showing how she changed, but I thought it worked so well.

    Stephanie: I'm sorry it didn't work for you! But you're definitely not alone. I've seen some other meh reviews. Ah well...can't love them all :P

  22. sounds very good. coming to your blog always has me adding to my wish list :)
    nice passages and great review.

  23. YES!! I love that you know what I'm talking about. Now I really want to re-read Remains of the Day. That list just keeps growing and growing...

  24. Naida: That's an inevitable consequence of blog hopping for me :P

    Trish: I want to re-read it too! And also read more Ishiguro.

  25. Awesome review Nymeth. From your review, I shouldn't have passed over this book when I saw it. That's remedied now as I added it to my TBR. Thanks!

  26. Oooh, I picked this one up in a charity sop some months ago. Can't wait to read it now.

  27. Glad you enjoyed this one so much.

    To Stephanie, I didn't love it either, so you're not alone. :)

  28. Yesterday a lady brought this book and Rosoff's other "What I Was" into my bookshop and I was half tempted to bring them home. Hopefully they are still there on Monday - I really want to read this one now :)

  29. I've heard a lot of good things about this book, and you're review sealed it for me. Another one for the wish list!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  30. Oh I really like the sound of this one. Thank you for a great review, Nymeth!

  31. Teddy Rose, can't wait to see what you think of it :)

    Cath: A great find!

    tanabata: I knew there was someone I read regularly who wasn't as crazy about it as I was. So you're the dissenter :P (Kidding, of course)

    Joanne: Oooh, I've heard great things about What I Was too! I'd so bring them home if I were you :P

    Anna and Iliana, I hope you both enjoy it as much as I did!

  32. This one is on my TBR pile, I got it for Christmas, and is going to be working it's way up to the top soon as it's on my Dewey's Challenge list.

  33. Nymeth, I've been going through my "starred posts" file in Google Reader, and I've found that your reviews influence me a great deal.

    I really want to read this one. Thanks for the review!

  34. Jessica, I'm very flattered to hear that! I really hope you enjoy this book :)

  35. I don't know what it says about me, but I really didn't like this book. I had such a hard time with it! I wrote a review too, would you mind linking to it please?



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