Monday, July 2, 2007

How I Live Now

My (public library) copy has the golden Michael Printz Award seal, the ALA's relatively new award for Young Adult literature. This novel for teens and up also won the Guardian Children's Fiction prize for 2004 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread in the same year.

On first reading, and with no reading of reviews yet, here's how it went. Daisy's voice grabbed me right away: here is a unique person yet identifiably a teenager speaking. The premise is terrific: she's off the England to stay with her cousins because her dad has a horrible new wife. She's fifteen, between child and adult. She falls in love with one of her cousins and has sex with him, and she bonds strongly with another, nine-year old Piper, a wise little girl. Then life really changes: terrorists occupy the country and keep it under siege. Army troops take over villages and people's houses, families are split up, the men and boys sent mysteriously away. Suddenly we're in a thriller, one with very strong characterization, great plot, and a genuine voice. And teenage sex. I have to say that because a lot of parents and librarians in the US would prefer that we not spotlight a book that includes this element of modern realism. But, like the novels of Melvin Burgess, another award-winning author of books for teenagers ("teen and up" is what I call it), Rosoff's novel is a gripping read and shouldn't be kept out of the hands of teens.

I recently read Penelope Lively's Cleopatra's Sister and am struck with the similarities in themes and situations in these two novels. The threat of terrorism is alive and present in our minds these days, and both of these books present scenarios which could happen, given the imperialist heritage of both the UK and the US, and the present neo-colonial mindset of some of our leaders.
The theme of love is strong in both: erotic love, familial love and its absence, the fierce protective love a person can discover when a child is threatened, the strong bond between people and animals (dogs, here). Teenage love that turns into a lasting relationship. The fortuitous meeting of two people. The energetic love that can get people through anything. (Cormac McCarthy's The Road is maybe the strongest example of this last motif since the setting is so bleak and stripped to the earth's bare bones.)
Recommended for teens and up.


bri. said...

Nice review.

I was unprepared for How I Live Now, had no idea what I was getting into. I was taken right away, like you, but taken aback by the dark turn of events. I want to reread it, now that I'm prepared, and see how the story hits me. I really like this book.

jane said...

Well, that was my experience, too, having no idea what was coming! And I was maybe annoyed at first, I guess because I assumed it would degenrate into some kind of genre novel. But it proved to be good, and my reading of it was enriched by having just recently read the Lively. Now we have to get out hands on her new award winner! Does Barrington have it? Or you could order it from your state network, then I could maybe get to read it when I'm up there! I really can't keep buying books....