At this week’s Book Club, I discovered how simply retelling the story of a novel to someone who hasn’t read it can really help my own understanding of what I really liked and didn’t like about it. As we recounted the story of How I Live Now in some detail (while not giving away the ending) to one of the members who hadn’t managed to read it, it was interesting to see which bits we’d all remembered, which bits I thought were insignificant but weren’t (and the opposite), and how, as we all chipped in to the telling of the story, I could see which parts of it meant more to which people.
So, another (quicker) synopsis – American teenager Daisy goes to stay with her cousins on an isolated farm in England, mainly to get away from her evil stepmother and the impending birth of a half sibling. The life of her new family seems idyllic at first, and Daisy begins to fall in love with one of her cousins, Edmond. But the world is on the brink of war, and Daisy’s Aunt Penn becomes stranded in Oslo after travelling there for an anti-war speech, with the children left at home to fend for themselves after war breaks out. The children play house for a while, and everything seems alright, until the troubles finally reach their home and the war becomes more of a reality.
“If you haven’t been in a war and are wondering how long it takes to get used to losing everything you think you need or love, I can tell you the answer is no time at all.”
One aspect of the book that no one mentioned in the retelling was the special power Edmond possessed; a sort of psychic ability that allowed him to communicate without speaking and know things before they happened. This allowed Daisy to keep up a sort of connection with him even after they become separated, when their adult free paradise is commandeered by the military and the boys and girls are split up. Looking back, this to me wasn’t really a major aspect of the story, it was just sort of there – I was more interested in Daisy and Piper and their struggle to survive and get back to the boys and their home. Because it is told from Daisy’s point of view, the things that were important to her became important to me. The things that were outside her sphere of knowledge seemed to fade into the background, and a lot of things did fade into the background for Daisy, as her world totally changed, her priorities along with it.
We sometimes found the stream of consciousness style writing a little annoying, but perhaps that’s because none of us are 15 year old girls, and so don’t think in the same way. But the fact that Daisy was the narrator doesn’t mean it didn’t work well as a book for adults. I couldn’t quite work out if it was a love story, a story of survival against the odds, a story about children fending for themselves, or a story about how war affects ordinary people. It was, in fact, a bit of everything. Three and a half stars.