I wasn't sure if I would enjoy this one, I picked it up off the library shelf on a complete whim after seeing that the copy we had was a world night book.
It turns out that How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is a young adult dystopian novel with a bit of a difference. Instead of being set after the catastrophe has occurred, the novel starts just before and continues during the fictional third world war. It tells the lives of Daisy, an American sent to live in England with her aunt by her father after she causes family trouble, and her English cousins who all live together in the idyllic English countryside. Daisy is originally very put out by being sent away and doesn't mix well, but then begins to form friendships with her cousins, and develops a romantic relationship with her eldest cousin Edmond. Suddenly Daisy and her cousins are left to fend for themselves when the war strikes and leaves their only adult stranded in Norway, meaning they have to come face to face with the horrors of war and learn to deal with all the physical and emotional trauma that war brings.
I haven't read of another dystopian novel which actually goes through the event that changes the world of the novel, they all seem to occur after the event when the characters don't really know of life any other way and slowly discover that life hadn't always been so awful. I liked that the story allowed the teenagers to grow by forcing them to experience the war as it happened, they had to deal with situations they previously wouldn't have even contemplated happening, such as potential starvation and trekking across the countryside to survive. In a dystopian novel this is pretty much the norm, but for these kids it isn't, they aren't faced with going into the arena every year like Katniss, for the first portion of the book there is no real fear. Along with the idyllic countryside, childhood innocence hasn't been spoiled by destruction and this made their new reality all the more shocking for them to experience.
While reading you very much felt like you were listening to a teenagers thoughts, the writing lacked all speech formatting which added to the reading experience as it made you think a bit more about who was actually involved in the conversation, and what was internal speech.
The teenage thought process was a little annoying to read as an adult, as it so often is, and I did find it hard to like Daisy as a character, she wasn't completely intolerable though just very self-centered, a typical teenager. My favourite character by far was Daisy's younger cousin Piper who she ends up spending quite a lot of time with, she read as balanced and the most put together despite being younger. I hope that this was intentionally written in to provide a contrast between the two girls and the effects that individual emotions can have upon someone in a crisis.
The main theme of the book is teenage love driving you to survive, and while I can understand that as a mode for storytelling, I can't say that I felt Daisy and Edmond were well suited. I was a bit weirded out by them being cousins, and felt that that particular tie was in no way necessary as any young man would have been a fine character to provide the focus for the teenage love angst. I do like the moral though, and it is true that for teenagers their relationships are the be all and end all. It becomes especially poignant for the ending of the story too, focussing on the idea that you never truly forget your first love.
The book has recently been released as a film you can see the trailer right here. I have to admit I am not exactly excited for this film, Saoirse Ronan isn't how I imagined Daisy at all, and I suspect they may have made her less the self-centered teen and more of a heroine for the film.
I enjoyed this book, but I was a bit disappointed by it. After discovering the plot I was excited for something a little different, and wished it hadn't been so angsty, I should have known better really!
I would still recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre, and even if you have read a few and are becoming a little tired of them, this one is just different enough that you might just enjoy it. An extra perk is that it is also not very long, or a series so there is less commitment!