I will preface this by saying that I liked this book a lot. However, due to that habit I have of forming expectations when I read about things, it was also not at all what I thought it was going to be. Because I forgot about the whole second half of Nymeth’s review or something, but the only thing that stuck with me was a girl goes off to live with her cousins (there is really no phrase I find more appealing in a book synopsis than goes off to live with) and I had a vague sense that they also frolic around in the country and ignore the war. Which yes, that is exactly what happens, but then they get discovered, because even in slightly-future English countryside it isn’t easy for a bunch of kids to live by themselves and not have anyone interfere; and then a number of very unpleasant things happens.
So my plot synopsis, revised from the plot synopsis I had in my head when I got the book out of the library, is as follows: A dysfunctional fifteen-year-old girl called Daisy goes off to live with her slightly-telepathic and insane cousins in slightly-future England, and this is fun for them all until the war they have been ignoring becomes unignorable, and Daisy has to grow up and be tough and fend for herself. Also she has a slightly-incestuous relationship with her cousin.
(Amazon felt angry about the underage sex and slightly-incest plotline. However, since they are both very young, and this is a weird-ass family, I don’t care about that; and after the year and a half I spent listening to that awful song and making electrocution jokes about the whole Jonathan & Tammy plotline on Guiding Light, I have had every ounce of anti-cousin-sex prejudice mashed out of my brain. I think there may be a touch of unhealthy dependence on each other, but on the other hand, Daisy handles being on her own just fine. Unlike some unhealthily dependent heroines I could mention.)
I think that unsettling is an excellent quality for a book to have. I seem to have only ever used that particular adjective in reference to books I liked, and quite rightly. How I Live Now possesses that quality. I’ve never been in a war, so I of course don’t know how it would be, but I think the way that Daisy talks about the war is exactly how it would be for a bunch of teenagers living without any parents. She says this, which I think is perfect:
The first thing that happened wasn’t our fault. That was a bomb that went off in the middle of a big train station in London the day after Aunt Penn went to Oslo and something like seven or seventy thousand people got killed.
Seven or seventy thousand. Excellent.
The vagueness of the war is fantastic – though I’m inclined to think the vaguer the better in general, since I hate war and I can’t read war books because they make me sick to my stomach (a reason that I will not be buying this book myself). The closest Daisy gets to talking about specifics is when she’s referring to The Enemy. She spends a lot of time talking about how it’s nearly impossible to tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, since they all seem to be doing the exact same things.
On the downside, I thought the cousins were a bit too-too. Daisy was such a strong, solid character, and easy to identify with, and it was obvious why she adored them, because she belonged with them in a way she didn’t at home. That worked really well. But the cousins were so airy-fairy that I couldn’t invest that much in her relationships with them (probably another reason I wasn’t fussed about the underage incest).
I have to stop staying up late reading! Sleep is important too! But thanks to Nymeth for the recommendation. I cleverly have what I thought was Meg Rosoff’s only other book, Just in Case, out from the library too; though it turns out (hurrah!) it’s one of two other books by her. Yay.