A few years ago, I went through a phase where I was only reading dystopias. I burned myself out quickly because a lot of the books felt like clones. It seemed like I was just reading the same book over and over.
I don’t know how I missed How I Live Now during my dystopia phase. It would have broken up the clone monotony. This book is a dystopia with a teenage girl as a main character, but it’s a little different from what I’m used to.
Fifteen-year-old Daisy is living with her cousins in England when a war breaks out, and the nearby village is invaded. The cousins are split up and sent to live in different foster homes until Daisy’s aunt can get back to England. When Daisy begins to suspect that her aunt is never coming home, she becomes desperate to reunite with her cousins.
Daisy isn’t your typical YA dystopian heroine. She has no interest in politics. It isn’t her job to overthrow the government and save the world. She doesn’t even know what the war is about or who’s fighting. Daisy and her cousins are just kids who are trying to survive something that they don’t understand. This dystopia is creepy because it feels so plausible.
To contrast the realistic dystopian elements, the book has some strange fantasy elements. Daisy and her cousins have a psychic connection with each other and the landscape. I like that the psychic connection is kept mysterious. Daisy and her cousins just accept that they can read each other’s minds. This is how their lives work. They don’t question it. The connection is interesting and makes the story more than a typical dystopian/survival/war book.
There are a few things that I didn’t like about the book, but the story is compelling enough that I could easily look past them. The writing style was distracting at first. There are a lot of long sentences and SHOUTY CAPS. I did get used to it eventually because it’s realistic and true to Daisy’s personality.
I guess I also have to talk about the insta-cousin-love. Daisy does fall in romantic love with her cousin shortly after meeting him. My first thought was, “Are YA authors so desperate to include a romance in their books that they have to resort to insta-cousin-love?” The romance is my biggest problem with the book. Even if the characters weren’t cousins, it would have felt underdeveloped and unnecessary. I’m not sure why this book needed a romance. Luckily, it isn’t the main focus of the story.
The best thing about How I Live Now is its themes. Unlike a lot of dystopias, it doesn’t deal with large-scale problems. It’s about reevaluating your life and deciding what’s important. It’s a very personal story, and that’s what I love most about it.