When I was younger, books sucked me in and held me in a safe place when the world around me seemed like it was about ready to burn itself down. I could live between the pages easily, an outsider watching other peoples’ lives unnoticed, while my own life buzzed around me while I read, oblivious. Since the age twelve or thirteen, though, I’ve not been able to have quite that same relationship with my reading now that my coping mechanisms have at least somewhat improved. The relationship I have with Meg Rosoff’s novel How I Live Now is the closest I’ve come to the relationship I had with the books that I loved when I was younger and hiding from reality. The book didn’t make me feel safe at all—it was quite the opposite, but I could still live inside of it. I read it in one sitting and can’t stop thinking about it now that it’s over.
How I Live Now is a crossover novel that was originally considered standard fiction but is currently also being shelved with young adult fiction. I don’t know if I agree with the inside of my copy that says it is appropriate for ages twelve and up, but what do I know about anything? The novel shook me and made me uncomfortable and took me out of my own life in a way that was terrifying. I don’t know if my middle school self could have dealt with all of the material and the way that it was handled.
If I tried to give you a plot summary of the novel, you would gather that the main character struggled with anorexia and selfishness and cynicism but went through a coming of age in the middle of a future war where the identity of The Enemy was a big question mark and no one even knew what the war was over. You would know that book dealt with incest and the breaking of the taboo in major ways. You would know that there was a touch of magic, a splattering of telepathy, a continual string of events that were either brushes with insanity or out of body experiences that happened because of love and shared consciousness. Giving you the skeleton of the novel in the form of a basic summary would not speak to how chilling the novel was or tell you that Rosoff seems as much like a witch woman as she is a gripping author.
Honestly, I don’t know what to say about the novel at all except that you should read it. As one of my other favorite authors (Mark Haddon) says on the front cover, the novel is “Magical and utterly faultless.”
My last word on this is that Rosoff’s novel is the most original work of fiction I’ve read in a long time, or maybe in my life time. What started off seeming like it would be just another book about an angry and displaced adolescent finding their way turned into something much bigger. I realize that most of you 50 bookers are probably a lot more well read than I am and have read a lot more truly significant novels (whatever that means) than I have, but I feel like this book will probably join the ranks of revered reading and that Rosoff will find her place beside the Atwoods of the literary world over time.
And that’s all I have to say about that.