How I Live Now

DocumentHow I Live Now
Meg Rosoff
Published April 1, 2006
194 pages

This is one of those books that, if you were to read the jacket blurb in the bookstore, you would have no idea what you were getting yourself into. Here’s the blurb:

This is a story about love. 

It’s also a story about hate, which is why I left New York in the first place. You don’t fly halfway across the world to live with a bunch of people you never met, just for a laugh.

I guess if I’d known where it was all going to lead, I might have thought twice about stepping onto that plane. I might have worried a little more about Edmond being my cousin.

And me being fifteen.

But I didn’t. And in the end, those things didn’t matter as much as you think they would.

In the end, the world had bigger things to worry about than us.

So, you’d think: Ah, yes. This is another angsty teen romance about forbidden love. An unhappy girl with problems at home gets shipped off to live with her distant relatives in the UK (His name is Edmond. It’s a dead give-away.). Pretty standard stuff, right?

Well . . .

Perhaps you should take a gander at the trailer for the British movie adaptation of the book and see if it changes your presumptions about the book:

Did you get creepy, apocalyptic war and family torn apart and hiding out in the woods from the jacket blurb? I certainly didn’t. But I can tell you this: that movie trailer is a much more accurate reflection of the book than the book’s own jacket blurb.

Rating: 2.5/5

So, now you know. The book does have an angsty teen and a forbidden romance. It has the unhappy girl moving to England to live with her cousins. But it also has a big, scary war. It has violence and destruction and death and damage. And that’s a lot to pack into 189 pages of rather large typeface with lots of short chapters. It’s especially a lot when it’s all told in a very conversational tone by a fifteen-year-old first-person narrator.

This is a book that you can easily read in a couple hours. And, normally, that would be a huge bonus for me. But with this book, that is its greatest downfall. There’s just too much packed into this little novella and, as a result, it comes off as too lackadaisical for the subject matter. When you’re talking about massacres and starvation and the emotional fallout of war, you need a certain amount of gravitas. And this book lacks it.

I get why it won awards. Conceptually, the book is interesting and heavy (people love to give awards to heavy YA books, after all). Unfortunately, the execution of the book, much like the execution of the jacket blurb, left me wanting. The best YA books are those that handle heavy subjects in an accessible but mature manner. This falls short.

The hype:

  • 2004 winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize
  • 2005 winner of the Michael L. Printz Award
  • 2005 winner of the Branford Boase Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize
  • Shortlisted for the 2004 Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year
  • Shortlisted for the 2005 Booktrust Teenage Prize

Who should read it: I often recommend YA books to my mom. But this one is decidedly not for her. If you’re a fan of quick books, but you can also get behind some disturbing violence and tragedy, then this is a good choice for you. It’s an odd mix of very easy reading with very yucky subject matter.

Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:

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