How I Live Now is my favorite book of 2008, so far. I loved it even more than Purple Hibiscus, though that hardly seems possible.
The main character, Daisy, is a fifteen year old girl from New York. Her mother died when she was born, and her father's new, pregnant girlfriend hates Daisy and all she stands for. Poor Daisy is shipped off to spend the summer with some cousins and an aunt she's never met, somewhere in the countryside in England. Daisy falls in love with her new family, as did I. Little Piper, especially, is so sweet and loving that I wanted to adopt her. The rest of the family is just the opposite of what Daisy has been living with back home: warm, gentle, caring. Their constant offers of tea remind me of my husband's family. And the way they paid attention to who Daisy really is as a person, which was novel for her, is so endearing.
Unfortunately, war strikes. Daisy's aunt is in Oslo giving a presentation when it happens, so she's trapped there. The children (the oldest, I think, is 16) are left on their own. For a while, it's idyllic, isolated as they are out in the country. But eventually, adults figure out they're alone, so they're separated, and then they're up close and personal with the war.
Mark Haddon called this novel, "That rare, rare thing, a first novel with a sustained, magical and utterly faultless voice." You know whose first novel I think has a sustained, magical and utterly faultless voice? Mark Haddon, that's who. But also Meg Rosoff. I was surprised to see that this was the 2005 Printz winner, yet I'd never heard of it until this year. It just seems like the world should have been swooning over it so loudly and so enthusiastically that I would have noticed. And my library only got it this year. I'm not sure how both my library and I failed to realize that this book had been around for four years, but I'm putting Rosoff's newer novels straight on to my wishlist. I also put this book on my wishlist, because I know I'll want to read it again, and soon.
I think what I love most, after Daisy's cousins and aunt, is the language. In this novel, people aren't simply dreaming, they're "strolling around" in their "unpleasantly populated subconscious." And spring on the farm is described as "Walt Disney on ecstasy."
The bond the cousins feel with nature, while they're living on the farm or foraging for food during the war, is magical. Only someone who has really lived close to the earth could have written this. It felt familiar to me, the rhythms of the seasons, the growth of the plants, and all the little details that only someone who really loves the outdoors would ever be aware of.
You can read an excerpt here and an kids' Q&A with the author here. After reading How I Live Now, I had a little crush on Rosoff, but then I saw in the Q&A that when asked what fictional character she'd like to be friends with, she picked Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes! And so my crush grew to inspire the smitten ravings you see before you. Here's what she said: "He's wild, non-conformist and completely uncivilized, has a fantastic imagination, a very loyal tiger, hilarious parents, and is never ever ever ever boring."
Cross-posted in my blog.