Friday, September 3, 2010

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff (audio)


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


18 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I have a paperback copy of this so it is great to see that you gave it 5 stars. It isn't anywhere near the top of my reading pile, but you've pushed it up a bit further :-)

Zibilee said...

My kids loved this book and have been trying to convince me to read it for a long time. I think, after reading your review, that I am going to have to move it up in the stacks. It sounds wonderful and like something that I will love!

raych said...

*Huge. Relieved. Sigh.* I'm so glad you loved it. Likewise, I had no idea about all the acclaim and awards and things because I could never keep Meg Rosoff and Meg Cabot straight in my mind, or How I Live Now and Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It. I will never make these mistakes again, because ZOMG WHAT A BOOK!

Also, I was worried re: the audio version because part of the delight is in the Unexpected Capitals, and Daisy is very Unexpectedly Capitalizey. I'm glad listening to her was as brilliant as reading her.

Trisha said...

Seriously Sandy, if you add another book to my wish list.... I've seen this one around, but I haven't had a strong desire to pick it up. Now I'm wondering how I can sneak a new book into the house without the husband totally freaking out. :)

bermudaonion said...

You got me right at the beginning when you said a blogger has named her child after a character from the book. This one's going on my wish list for sure.

Julie P. said...

Holy cow -- does this one ever sound good?

The Bumbles said...

Well, I left a long rambling message earlier and my computer froze so it didn't go through. In summary:

Gone To Soldiers had a similar character arc of the petulant teen turned admirable heroine due to war and love which I enjoyed very much.

This isn't my usual genre of choice but you have me intrigued.

You could make the phone book intriguing to me.

Catherine Ensley said...

I didn't hear the audio, but I also love this book mightily. Your review is exceptional as well. I love how you connected first love to the compelling mystery that it is, at this time, to your children.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Oh, I hate it when you love books. Then I know I'll love it too and it just makes the lists grow longer. But I do object to the stereotype of "bitchy stepmother" that is in so many books. Nevertheless, I'll add it to the pile, as I always do when you give out a five!

Jenners said...

You are very very convincing, Missy!!!

I love how you said "The audio is only four discs long, or a nice thorough day of housecleaning." What my husband wouldn't give for me to do that! I'm sure he'd even buy me the audiobook!!! : )

heidenkind said...

This audiobook sounds like an experience!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

although I'm not crazy about dystopia (tend to avoid it, actually), you have me convinced!

I have so many house projects to do when the kids go back to school (3 days and counting!); a 4 hour commitment is perfect.

Alice Teh said...

I'm seriously exploring audio books as an alternative to paper format. This one is another great read I can see.

Melody said...

I mooched this book some time ago but just haven't got around to reading it. You've now convinced me to move this book up my pile, Sandy!!

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

This one is on my TBR pile but I haven't read it yet. I guess I should soon!

Kathleen said...

I'm convinced...I gotta read this one!!

kamagra online said...

Hey sandy..Thank you for sharing such kind of blog..I loved this audio books.It's really amazing.

Melissa M said...

A 5 from you means I MUST add it to my list!