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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Things That Make Me Go Hmmm ...

(Image from Indiebound)
You may have noticed that I have a little thing for dystopian fiction. You may have also noticed that I'm participating in the YA Dystopian Challenge hosted by Darren over at Bart's Bookshelf. You may have further noticed that I have only one more book to go before I complete the challenge. I know, right? Go, me! Anyway, when I was trying to decide what to read for YA-D2, I clicked on Bart's list of 50+ Fantastic Young Adult Dystopian Novels and discovered How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. The premise (15-year-old Daisy's idyllic summer overseas turns perilous when England's invaded by an unnamed enemy) sounded so intriguing that I added it to my immediate TBR list. Turns out, the book was nothing like I thought it would be. I'm not even sure it's really dystopian since it reads more like a historical war novel. Although it's not. Historical, that is. So, really, I don't know how to qualify the book. I'm not even sure what I think of it.
The long(er) plot summary goes something like this: Unhappy with her father's new marriage, 15-year-old Daisy decides to spend the summer at her Aunt Penn's farmhouse in rural England. With Penn traveling almost constantly for business, it's up to Daisy and her cousins to care for the farm and each other. The kids spend the long, carefree days swimming, fishing, tending the animals, and, in Daisy and Edmund's case, falling in love. It may be an unconventional romance, but Daisy doesn't care. She's never been happier.
Then, rumors of war become more than just idle gossip. England's been invaded by an unnamed enemy, armies are patrolling the cities, and the whole world's turning upside down. Even though Penn's stuck abroad, little changes at the farmhouse. Until soldiers take over the cottage, ordering the kids out. Since no one in the war-torn countryside can take in five children, Daisy and young Piper are sent one way while Edmund and the other boys go in another. As distraught by the separation as Daisy is, she knows she has to swallow her own grief and take care of Piper. Which she does, through illness, starvation, bloodshed, even death. Through it all, Daisy has only one goal: she must get herself and Piper back to the farmhouse, home to Edmund. The long journey back will be desperate and dangerous, a trip that will convince Daisy that everything - everything - has changed. The idyll days they once knew are gone. Forever.
While How I Live Now definitely has a dystopian tone, it feels more like a WWII novel. Probaby because war seems a lot less permanent than an alien invasion or rabid zombies consuming the human race or some great pestilence destroying the world as we know it. Thus, it's more of a survival story than anything else. It's also a romance, albeit a creepy, incestuous one. The book's compelling for sure, but also troubling, rambling and slow-moving in places. Usually I can't stand stream-of-consciousness narration, especially when it lacks quotation marks - surprisingly, the style didn't bother me much in this novel. It seemed to fit. Of course, that's about the only thing that didn't bug me. So, really, I'm not sure what to say about this one. My conclusion is pretty much this: How I Live Now is engrossing, just not that enjoyable. There were definitely things I like (Piper, for one), but mostly I found it disturbing. And bleak. And kind of creepy-weird.
So, yeah. I don't know. What did you think of How I Live Now?
(Readalikes: Reminded me of WWII novels, although I can't think of a specific title. Can you?)
Grade: C
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (I'm pretty sure there are no F-bombs), violence and sexual content
To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find


  1. I had mixed feelings, too, but the survival aspect made it a thumbs-up for me. It had a realistic feel, in that way. It did seem WWII-like & not sure I'd call it dystopian, either. Totally agree that the romance was kind of creepy incestuous icky pseudo romantic.

  2. Hm...I've been meaning to read this one for a while. Now, I'm having second thoughts!

  3. I... thought this one was okay, but it was pretty weird and disturbing. I felt really unsettled when I finished reading it, which maybe was the point? But the scene when they get back to the farm, and I think it's in the barn? That scene just seemed so descriptive and... just really freaked me out and grossed me out.

  4. Bookfool - I liked the survival aspect, too. It kept the book interesting. The "romance" was just way too creepy for me. Ick.

    Melissa - Yeah, I wouldn't really recommend it.

    Ashley - Definitely weird and disturbing and unsettling and freaky. I know exactly which scene you're talking about - it's still hanging out in my brain. Scary!

  5. I haven't read a single book for this challenge (Im sooo behind!!!)

    At least now I know I wont be picking this book up any time soon- last thing I need is a book that I wont love while trying to finish up my challenge!

  6. Oh, I'm SO with you on this one. It was weird, it felt weird- I seem to run across a lot of cousin-love and it just really creeps me out- and I just didn't like it at all. I've come across other people who just loved it, though. :)

  7. I have never heard of this book and while it sounds interesting, I am glad I stumbled across your review. Don't think I'll be adding it to my TBR pile.

  8. I love your review. love love love it! I thought I was alone in not being too hot on this book. You said it perfectly. I didn't even know it was categorized as dystopian. I thought it was historical fiction.

    I've started this book, I don't know how many times, and i always taper off in the middle.

    ah well, I'll probably get to it and finish it someday!
    Love the review, as always :)


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