I decided to read How I Live Now in my search for good, young-adult fiction because it won the Printz Award for excellence in YA literature. It’s the story of Daisy, an American teen with some serious problems. Her mother died in childbirth and she refers to herself as her mother’s murderer. Her father and his new wife are expecting a baby, and Daisy is the odd-girl out. She is also anorexic.
To lighten the family load (or so it seems), Daisy is shipped off to England to stay with her Aunt Penn and her four cousins, none of whom she has met before. They live in a farmhouse in the countryside in a sort of idyll not common in the modern word. The family is sensitive and preternaturally perceptive. Aunt Penn must travel to Oslo to discuss the coming war—a situation that seems to be long in coming, and no one believes it will happen; but happen it does. Suddenly Daisy is in a foreign country without an adult to supervise her or her cousins. At first this is fun—living off the farm—but when the war actually touches their lives, the story changes.
Daisy is separated from her male cousins and must look after her nine-year-old cousin, Piper, when they are removed from the farm. They see the devastation of war—cold-blooded murder and the death of animals. Even Daisy must learn to kill an animal to save it from suffering. Eventually, the girls brave the elements and starvation in an effort to return to the farm and find out what has happened to the boys.
Daisy is the sort of teen everyone likes—that is in fiction. She’s sassy and audacious. The narrative uses run-on sentences and unusual capitalization to give the reader a sense of Daisy’s ironic sense of humor. As she learns to draw on her resources to live through the war, she matures and becomes much less self-serving.
A few aspects of the novel did bother me. One was that, near the end of the book, the author jumps forward in time about six years. I felt this was a way of not having to deal with the end of the war—or even of ever letting the reader know who the enemy was and what the fighting was about. More disturbing was Daisy’s relationship with her cousin, Edmund. Although she hadn’t met him before her trip to England, and he is the sort of boy she would fall for, the fact that they have a physical relationship gives the book a little ‘ick’ factor—after all, he still is her first cousin, whether she knew him previously or not, and such a relationship is taboo. (There are no details, graphic or otherwise, and the two are separated through most of the book due to the war.) However, on the whole, teens will like the book, both the loveliness of life in the countryside and the portrayal of life in a war torn country.