Friday, September 3, 2010
After Raych raved about this book (and when I say rave, well, there's the norm and then there's Raych) I ordered the audio without question. After all, it appears half the world has read it and loved it (one blogger named her kid after one of the characters). It won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 2004, and has been called one of the best adult crossover novels in modern literature. AND they are making it into a movie, to be released in 2011. What's to lose, really? Plus it was a YA book, which meant it was automatically nominated as a "car audio" for the kids and I. Ultimately, we went into the experience completely ignorant of the plot.
The story is narrated by 15 year-old Daisy, who is being shipped off from New York, where her father and bitchy stepmother live, to cousins in England for a change of scenery (translate = father is at his wit's end with Daisy's rebellious attitude and eating disorder). Through Daisy's quippy, bright, likable voice, we are pulled into her world of peer pressure, parental estrangement and general self-absorption. When she arrives in England, she finds the family she has always yearned for in her four cousins and aunt. She begins an intense affair with her cousin Edmond (yes I know, gross, and a little uncomfortable with my kids listening despite the PG-13 sex). The aunt leaves for a conference in Oslo, and the kids enjoy romping in the English countryside without parental supervision, like summer camp. Then war breaks out and the country is in total lockdown.
Stop. Wait a minute. I turn off the audio and ask the kids "What war is this? Is it WWII?". My son pipes up and says "No mom, they have cell phones!". Ahhh. This is Dystopian! Cool.
The kids' parentless predicament is soon discovered, and the kids are separated. Daisy and her youngest cousin Piper must live with strangers, and add years to their lives overnight, witnessing first-hand the horrors of war. Food rationing. Violent and senseless deaths. Occupation. Their only goal is to be reunited with their family, but must face the reality that this may never happen. They don't even know if they will survive.
The story abruptly stops, and the story resumes at Part 2 with an older, more mature Daisy on her way from New York to England to re-visit what is left of her home away from home. I did not see this coming, and the suddenness of this transition about made me run off the road. The kids and I were almost yelling in tandem "What?! What happened? Why is she back in New York? What about Edmond?". The answer comes, but not soon enough to keep our hearts from palpitating.
I feel that I have nattered on a bit more than I normally do, but I'm compelled. I'm not sure if it is possible to adequately verbalize how precious we found this book. Despite the fact that Daisy is a slightly troubled teen, she is charming and endearing and precocious almost from the outset. You watch her grow more and more aware of the world around her, maturing and caring for others as a result of loving Edmond and the hell of war.
The almost spiritual connection between Daisy and Edmond takes me back to the intensity and intoxication of first love, and is a mysterious promise for the future in the eyes of my kids.
The jarring contrast between the innocence of youth and the finality of death amidst a war that could easily occur tomorrow scared us to death. The story is a confusion mixture of joy and tragedy. It is one that is hard to shake off.
The audio is only four discs long, or a nice thorough day of housecleaning. The narrator, Kim Mai Guest, has lent her sweet, childlike voice to hundreds of animated movies and TV shows, as well as audio books and video games. Listening to her was like a delicious decadent treat for the ears, and she embodied Daisy. If you are even an occasional audio book fan, you can't miss this one.
5 out of 5 stars