Sunday, 22 February 2015

'How I Live Now' by Meg Rosoff


*This review will contain spoilers!*

I'll be very surprised if you haven't heard of 'How I Live Now' because the film of it was out a couple of years ago, so it got quite a lot of attention then. I didn't hear as much hype about this book, but I thought I'd try it out anyway because I was very interested in watching the movie. 
'How I Live Now' tells the story of Daisy, a fifteen year old American girl who moves to England to live with her cousins, Piper, Edmond, Isaac and Osbert, right before a war breaks out. Daisy and Edmond fall in love, which is quite inappropriate because they are cousins - and even Daisy herself can admit this - but because her Aunt Penn, the cousins mother, has gone to Oslo to give a speech about the imminent threat of war, there is no one to control the cousins behaviour. However, when the war breaks out the cousins get split up, Piper and Daisy going one way, Edmond and Isaac going another way and Osbert becoming involved in the war effort. Piper and Daisy seem to settle down with their foster family quite quickly, but they can't stop thinking about the family that they've been separated from.
I read my first Meg Rosoff book back in October, and I had a massive issue with her writing style, which I had hoped was just contained to the one novel. However, as soon as I started 'How I Live Now', I knew the writing style must be across all of Meg Rosoff's books, because this novel was also written in reported speech, without any speech marks differentiating the description from the talking. For the majority of the novel it wasn't so much of an issue, but there were still areas in which the talking and the thinking about what someone had said afterwards all blurred in together and was hard to separate. 
I can't really understand why this book has had such rave reviews over on Goodreads, because it's not just that great. To be absolutely honest, I didn't really care about the cousins having sex aspect that much, because it did show how children without an adult can make terrible mistakes. It was just the novel as a whole that was utterly disappointing. Part One is set up extremely well - Piper and Daisy going cross country in an attempt to find their family, discovers horrors of the war that were realistic as well as affecting (RIP Ding </3) and showing exactly how two young children can survive on their own armed only with determination and desperation. The story isn't rushed - over five months pass from the start of the novel, rather than a few weeks as is told in some war novels, so that was an interesting aspect. However, the end of Part One into Part Two just completely disappointed me.
Daisy and Piper had just made it to their home and were waiting for Edmond and Isaac to return, when low-and-behold the phone starts ringing. There has been no phone signal for months on end, but we're meant to accept the fact that Daisy's father's phone call miraculously managed to get through, just after they'd returned to the farm. This was never explained, never expanded upon, we were just meant to accept it, and I could not.
Furthermore, in the middle of a war, would they really bother deporting a teenage girl when all of the travel and transport is meant to be closed down? Even with a medical order demanding her return to America, I don't think it would be that easy. You hear stories all the time of countries trying to get their civilians home from enemy territories, and more often than not it takes months, or even years, of trying, rather than one phone call and a couple of days.
Part Two just put the final nail in the coffin for this book though. Six years have passed and Daisy is returning to see her cousins, and we believe that Edmond is dead - until she gets to the house and he's sat out on the porch. It just seems quite unbelievable to me that in a family of six people, only one of them dies in a war, and it's none of the children/teenagers who would be more likely to make mistakes and get caught. When we return to the farm, Isaac is speaking but Edmond is closed up in himself, a shell of who he was due to the trauma he witnessed during the war. I understand it's meant to be kind of ironic, that Isaac used to be the one who didn't speak and he could only find his voice when his brother lost his, but it just really annoyed me. Then Daisy and Edmond start sorting out their differences, and she proclaims her love to him, and neither his brother or his sister bat an eyelid at the fact that he's dating their cousin. 
I was expecting really good things from this book, but it just fell completely flat for me. Don't get me wrong, there were some good descriptions: the English countryside felt realistic and layered, the massacre at the farm was stomach-turning and the death of Ding brought a tear to my eye. But other than those aspects, the novel just wasn't that good. If you're looking for a war novel aimed at young adult readers, I would definitely recommend 'Tomorrow, When The War Began' by John Marsden, because it's a heck of a lot more exciting and enjoyable. 

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