I was a bit early at my screening at the BFI so I decided to browse through the second hand books before the entrance. I obviously bought five *sigh*. One of them was Meg Rosoff's debut How I Live Now. I'm a total sucker for cute covers with pink flowers and butterflies so I hardly even read the summary at the back. I only registered the critic by Mark Haddon (who wrote the amazingly beautiful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time *which you should read* *now*) saying "Magical and utterly faultless".
What else do you actually need to buy a second hand book?
Nothing at all, especially because this book is, as said, magical and utterly faultless. Seriously.
Since I hadn't read properly the back cover, I was anticipating this forbidden love story kind of plot. But there is so much more to this story that it should constitute a genre in itself.
So 15-year-old New Yorker Daisy is the typical anorexic with family issues teenager. In an attempt to
get her out of the way *cough* make her change air, she is sent to her deceased mother's sister in England. Little does she know that this trip will alter her life forever.
She meets her strangely gifted cousins: they read people's mind, can talk to animals and sense when things are going to happen. She learns to live in a farm where you eat what you grow and grow what you eat. She falls in love with her cousin Edmond, hence the forbidden love story. She gradually starts to belong somewhere somehow.
But this peaceful situation is threatened by a war. An unknown and unexplicable war against causeless and faceless enemies. With her Aunt gone, the children/teenagers have to rely on themselves and their gifts to survive and find each other.
I can hardly explain how and why I loved this book:
Was it the surprise of reading a profound analysis of war in a YA romance story?
Was it the supernatural aspect of some characters that is described as normal and where no other explanation is given?
Was it the relationship between characters?
Was it the peculiar love story?
Was it the tone? The style?
All of this, and probably much more. Some Fantasy books over-rationalise the fantastic elements in their story, they give it a mythology, a history, a complete biological analysis, whereas sometimes it's just superfluous.
It makes me think of David Almond's incredible book Skellig, where the character of Skellig is present throughout the story, and no explanation of his alienness is ever given. And this is what gives the charm to the story. Same here. Like Daisy, you discover these children's peculiarity and learn to love them for it without trying to understand.
The war context is the perfect background. This is why the "utterly faultless" critic comes in. This book is a whole, you read it from beginning to end with the same curiosity, passion and interest.
It is a definite must-read.
It is a definite must-read.