How I Live Now
by Meg Rosoff
Daisy leaves her home in New York City to stay with family she has never met in England. While she has been spiraling into anorexia and depression at home, she quickly finds strong connections with her aunt and cousins. Her new unstructured life in the country nourishes her physically and mentally in a way that her city life could not. Not only is she free from her pregnant stepmother and her father’s new life, but she is also surrounded by earthy, nurturing people who really seem interested in getting to know her. Daisy instantly feels a bond with her new family, especially with pixie nature-girl Piper and edgy intuitive Edmond. In her Aunt Penn she finds a motherly role model who can provide insight into the life of her mother, who died during childbirth. When Aunt Penn goes to Oslo for a conference, leaving the children in the care of oldest son Osbert, the ragtag group explores the countryside and teaches Daisy about the care of the various animals and plants on the farm. Their carefree existence is shattered, however, when terrorist bomb parts of nearby London and the country descends into darkness under the occupation by unknown forces. News is scarce, but rumors abound and with borders closed, the children are utterly alone. They provide for themselves admirably and Osbert becomes involved in intelligence which helps them all keep abreast of the situation. Out in the country, they are undisturbed for some time, but find their fragile peace destroyed when their home is overtaken by troops and they are separated and relocated. The girls are sent to stay with the family of an officer and the boys are sent to stay on a farm some distance away. Piper and Daisy help the troops by herding cattle (Piper and her dog) and picking fruit (Daisy) and Daisy focuses her energies on reuniting the family as soon as possible. She gathers information from those around them and picks up survival skills from the troops. As her strength grows, she remains in contact with Edmund through their strange emotional connection. When another worker is killed in front of them, the girls and other civilians are relocated to a troop camp where they stay for a few weeks while the conflict nearby continues to brew. The girls learn more about the area around them and how to survive. As resources continue to dwindle, the girls struggle to get enough food and water. When an altercation nearby gets out of hand, the girls escape into the wilderness and begin their journey to reunite with the boys. After many trials, the girls reach the farm where the boys have been staying, but find the inhabitants murdered and the livestock starving. With every ounce of courage she has, Daisy checks to make sure the boys are not there. She is relieved they are not there, so they try to find their way back to their farm. No one is there when they get back and the girls focus on trying to create a safe haven. Hoping to make contact with the boys, Daisy continues to check the house and is surprised one day when the phone rings. She answers it and finds herself in a whirlwind as her father whisks her off to New York and into a mental hospital for her “safety”. After several years of frustrating doctors and psychiatrists, she makes contact with Piper and returns to England where she finds her family intact but utterly changed. Everyone has grown up and changed since their experience of the occupation, and Edmond is completely transformed by what he views as Daisy’s betrayal and the violence he has witnessed. The book ends as she tries to find her place back within their fold.
This is definitely not your traditional love story. Not only are Edmond and Daisy cousins, but their story comes to an inconclusive end. Modern readers may be refreshed by the lack of a purely happy ending and Daisy’s honest understanding of the unusual nature of their relationship. She is genuinely conflicted and realizes that their relationship would be frowned on by just about everyone. In addition, she is suitably vague in her comments on their love affair to make both of them more likable.
Daisy is a completely drawn character who rarely descends into self-pity or hopelessness. Though she undergoes a significant transformation over the course of the novel, she neither preaches nor takes a heavy-handed approach with her message. Clearly Daisy has realized the futility of both her eating disorder and her frustration with her stepmother, but she allows this previous experience to lay beside her more brutal experiences of war, hunger, and hardship and therefore speak for itself. She neither reviles her earlier self nor romanticizes her modern self. The reader is allowed to take away from the novel whatever they like and in this sense the power of the implied message is made more dynamic and approachable.
The picture of war drawn by the author is believable and the the children’s experience in this modern kind of warfare is neither too tame nor too extreme. Rosoff strikes a nice balance between depicting the children as resourceful and earthy as well as vulnerable. The details of the conflict itself are appropriately unclear and the children are exposed to a variety of misinformation and paranoia. Both Piper and Daisy contribute to their ability to survive, Piper with her knowledge of plants and animals and Daisy due to her social shrewdness. They make significant mistakes along the way that display their humanity and fallibility.
While the male characters are very well drawn and interesting, the narrator is Daisy and this is her story first. Told from a different standpoint, the novel could appeal to male readers, but the first person style ensures that this will primarily interest girls. While the first person style adds immediacy, it does prevent the reader from obtaining a full picture of the other characters, the experience of the war, and the relationship between Daisy and Edmond.
While there is a great deal of detail throughout the novel, Daisy tells the reader little about her experience in New York after her extraction from England. This segment of her life is very quickly glossed over, and while this serves to illustrate that Daisy only comes alive when she is surrounded by her true family, it also gives the reader an incomplete vision of her life. Readers may be left with more questions than answers and in some ways, that is a strength of the novel as well because it begs the reader to see the world in all of its complicated and incomplete glory.