“Every war has turning points and every person too.”
Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.
As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary.
But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff was a book that was on my radar for a while; it had many glowing reviews and the premise itself sounded rather intriguing.
Daisy (real name Elizabeth but nobody calls her that) is a young and troubled American girl. At fifteen, she is sent by her father and step-mother to go and stay with her aunt and cousins in England.
Her Aunt Penn, elder sister of her long-dead mother, a distracted but kindly women, welcomes her into her family. Her four cousins, Osbert, the twins Isaac and Edmond, and young Piper are all fairly eccentric and lovable. Each of them seem to have a touch of the uncanny about them too, Edmond in particular. Daisy finds herself more at home with them than she did with her father and step-mother (who she refers to as Davina the Diabolical).
Daisy is particularly drawn to her cousin Edmond, and finds herself developing feelings for him that she should not feel to someone who is so closely related. I was expecting to find this quite squicky and did at first but did not let this put me off the story.
Daisy’s burgeoning relationship with these relatives takes centre stage at the beginning of the novel. Her aunt leaves of a trip to Oslo quite soon after Daisy arrives and is trapped there when the unthinkable happens – War. The war itself is not so strongly felt at the beginning. The children all relish being left alone with no adult supervision. Although Osbert seems to be following the events of the war more than the younger children, they exist as if in a state of near-utopia and the reality of the war does not really intrude on their lives. Daisy and Edmond’s relationship progresses very rapidly, having no adults around to stop them.
However, this idyllic existence is soon shattered and the children are separated from each other and sent to live with other families across the country. Daisy and her youngest cousin Piper, are sent to live with an Army Major and his wife, but are soon forced to flee and travel across the country back to their beloved home. Will they ever be re-united with the boys? Will Daisy and Edmond ever find each other again?
This novel is brutal and heart-breaking. Although the war itself is never an overwhelming presence, it strikes out at inopportune moments, reminding the characters (and the reader) just how bad things can get.
The novel is in three parts. The first deals with the lead up to the war and the second the events during the grip of the occupation that England finds itself enduring. The third part deals with the aftermath. Although not a particularly long book, it was very affecting and hard-hitting.
I wasn’t truly aware of what I was getting into when I started this novel but I am very glad that I decided to pick this up. It toyed with my emotions in ways I wasn’t expecting and I ended up feeling drained but satisfied with the conclusion.