Monday, January 3, 2011

Book Study: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for 2005.

Basic Information:
This was the first book on the 40x40 Challenge, and I read it from June 1, 2010 to June 30, 2010. It normally doesn’t take me this long to read a book, but since it was the first one on the challenge, I went slow; maybe a little too slow. In the beginning week, I analyzed each word, and how it was followed by another, then another to make the sentence. Then sentence after sentence, turning into the paragraph. Then… Oh, you know what I mean.

Once I got into the swing of things, and understood what I wanted to do, I sat back and savored the book, as I should have in the first place. And savored it, I did.

Use of the Elements Of Fiction:


The story is set England, in an undetermined modern time. Not a post-apocalyptic world, but a not so distant future, in the midst of an un-named World War. The farm that Daisy moves to is called Gateshead. Half the story happens there, while the other half is still in the war-ravaged English countryside.


The story starts with our lead character, Daisy, moving to England to live with her dead mother’s sister and family. It is Daisy’s belief that she is being sent away from New York City because her father has re-married and is about to have a child with his new wife, Davina the Diabolical. She is fifteen years old, and anorexic.

In England she meets Aunt Pen and her cousins, Osbert, Edmond, Isaac and Piper. They live on a farm called Gateshead in the outskirts of London, where they hear rumblings about the War, but they don’t care because it has yet to hit home. Aunt Pen, who works for the government, goes away for work, but due to events related to the War, Aunt Pen fails to return home. The children are left on their own, fending for themselves as the effect of War begins to manifest itself.

In the meantime, Daisy engages in a love affair with her cousin Edmond. The pair explore their love for each other, until the War comes knocking at their door. The home is sequestered by the government and made into a base. Daisy and Piper are sent to live with The McEvoys, an army family, while the boys are moved away to a farm in Kingly.

While under the care of The McEvoys, the girls learn about the hardship of living in a country at war. They witness the murder of Major McEvoy, and are once again taken away to an encampment. After an attack on the encampment, Daisy and Piper escape and begin the journey home, on their own.

After roaming the countryside, the girls find their way home. Gateshead was the site of a massacre, but despite finding all the death and destruction, they find hope. They find the lambing barn, where they played and slept just before the war came to them, untouched, and live there until, they are found.

Daisy is returned to New York City and goes into psychiatric treatment for the next six years. We find her again after the War has ended. As soon as the borders are re-opened, Daisy returns to England to find the family she left behind. At Gateshead, she finds them together, all alive and grown-up, just as she has. Edmond is alive, but not whole. He witnessed the massacre at Gateshead and was broken by the experience.

Daisy stays were she belongs; with Edmond.


The story is presented solely from the point of view of our main character, Daisy, in the first person, past tense.


Our main character is Daisy. The author is successful in presenting her with a very clear and resonant voice. We can see her attitude right away through her sarcasm. You envision her as a self-centered, anorexic, fifteen year old, having the manner of thought that only one of that age would possess.
In the beginning, she is hurt that she was sent away, but not too hurt.

She knows that the love affair she is engaging in with her cousin is wrong, but she still does it anyway.

From page 44, The feeling which had been starting up for a while now was so strong it made me dizzy and so far we’d just been pretending it was what cousinly love felt like and all the garbage you tell yourself when you want to pretend something ‘s not really happening.

From page 48, As for me? I was pretty far gone, but not so far gone that I thought anyone with half a toehold in reality would think what we were doing was a good idea.

She knows there is a war, but does not care as she is still unaffected by it.

But later on, through experiencing the ravages of war, Daisy’s thought process changes, from caring only about herself and her issues, she begins to care for others. To also finding hope, and even God.

From pages 79 to 80, Now that I was away from Edmond I could think more or less in private about all the changes that were jamming themselves into my life and one of the thoughts I had was how you could love someone more than yourself and worry about getting stuck in the middle of a war and ending up dead was transferred onto worry about keeping them alive.

From page 147, after finding a safe resting place in the lambing barn at Gateshead, That night I slept the deep dreamless sleep of the dead.

From page 159, after food becomes more available on the farm, One funny thing was that I didn’t look much different now from the day I arrived in England but the difference was that now I age what I could.

Somewhere along the line I’d lost the will not to eat,

From pages 148 to 149, after finding the lambing barn untouched, Even at the very worst times I had never occurred to me to pray but I did now.

I prayed that the mice hadn’t invaded the feed bin. I prayed that the food hadn’t all rotted in the summer. I prayed to all the gods I never believed in my whole entire life that there would be enough for Piper and maybe some left over for me.

I guess this means I now have to believe in god.

Daisy’s cousins, Osbert, Edmond, Isaac and Piper are the other characters. They are all portrayed vividly, but it is the relationship she has with Edmond that is worthy of further discussion.

Their relationship, appears to be a character in the story in itself.

Daisy has the sense that Edmond can read her mind, or listen to her thoughts.

From page 44, It takes a whole lot of practice to get used to being careful about what you think in the privacy of your own brain. On the other hand, there are advantages in being able to think something that you can count on being overheard. It eliminates a lot of fumbling around.
Even while they are separated when the army takes over the farm, their bond remains strong.

From pages 80 to 81, This made me not quite as desperate as I had been and if I lay very still I could hear Edmond thinking about me wherever he was and I thought about him back and then the bond between us complete.

Daisy’s relationship with Piper also deserves further discussion.

After the children are separated when Gateshead is sequestered, Daisy develops her bond with the nine-year-old. It through their time together, that the most dramatic change in Daisy occurs. She starts thinking about others around her, over herself.

From page 79, I asked her Do you know what invincible means? And she nodded because she’s read more books in nine years than most people read in a lifetime and I said Well, as long as we’re together that’s what we are.


Ms. Rosoff provides description and imagery rather sparingly, but you can visualize it.

From pages 53 to 53, describing the from of the house at Gateshead just before the army arrives to sequester it, Meanwhile about 100,000 white roses all over the front of the house are blooming like mad, the vegetables grow about six inches a day, and the flower gardens all around the house are so full of color that you couldn’t help feeling ecstatic and dizzy just looking at them.

From pages 142 to 143, upon finding the death at Gateshead after their escape, Beyond in the covered paddocks were the animals, mostly cows and half-grown calves, nearly a hundred of them crammed together with no food, mostly dead but a few still standing and some lying down making a harsh moaning kind of noise when they breathed… I was a little closer I could see the rats crawling out from inside the dead animals and foxes tugging at stinking intestines exposed through holes torn in the flesh…

From page 181, upon returning to Gateshead six years later, On the warm stone walls, climbing roses were just coming into bloom and great twisted branches of honeysuckle and clematis wrestled each other as the tumbled up and over the top of the wall. Against another wall were white apple blossoms on branches cut into sharp crucifixes and forced to lie flat against the stone. Below, the huge frilled lips of giant tulips in shades of white and cream nodded in their beds.

My Personal Observations:
In the beginning, I found the issue about the relationship between Daisy and Edmond very off-putting. After all, that is incest isn’t it? But after continuing on to read, I found myself accepting that it was part of the story. That their relationship was in itself, a character in the story, too. While my inner most feelings could not condone such a relationship, it was a part of this story.

I was very moved by the way Ms. Rosoff linked the way Daisy feels for Edmond to her anorexia. Starvation, hunger, and longing are the main descriptors of their feelings toward each other.

From page 45, after their first kiss And after a little while of this, my brain and my body and every single inch of me that was alive was flooded with the feeling that I was starving, starving, starving for Edmond.

From page 53, when Edmond and Daisy would slip away from their cousins to be together, … then Edmond and I would slip away to the tiny bedroom at the top of the house or the big storage closet under the eaves or the lambing barn or one of about a thousand places we’d found where we could try and try and try to get enough of each other but it was like some witch’s cures where the more we tried to stop being hungry, the more starving we got.

It was the first time in as long as I could remember that hunger wasn’t a punishment or a crime or a weapon or a mode of self-destruction.

It was simply a way of being in love.

Another distinction to me in this story was how Ms. Rosoff did not use quotation marks as part of her punctuation around dialogue. In the beginning, it was distracting, because I did not have the mental markers that would tell me that the character is speaking. She did however capitalize the first word in the line of dialogue, as she did in the passage from page 79 above. After a while, I got used to it and it no longer posed a hindrance for me.

She did however, in one line, when Daisy was back in New York City, after being released from psychiatric treatment, utilize the quotations marks as we are used to. I am intrigued by that and would like to know what the distinct purpose was for Ms. Rosoff to do that.

First Line: My name is Elizabeth, but no one’s ever called me that.

Last Line: And that’s how I live now.

After reading this book, I am in awe. It amazes me that such a mature theme would be for the Young Adult market. Adults will certainly enjoy this, as well. I have since followed Ms. Rosoff’s blog and even comment now and then. She has on occasion responded to a comment or two, which has tickled me pink.

I am still mustering up the courage to send Ms. Rosoff an e-mail regarding that issue of the lone quotation-marked line. Hopefully, she will respond and allow me to share it with you.

I look forward to reading her other novels as soon as I find the time in between my 40X40 Challenge. She is currently working on her fifth novel.

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