Rosoff employs the traditionally accepted criteria for YA fiction. (read)Additionally, she rejects traditional punctuation and grammar, which sets a discomforting tone, keeps the reader on edge and moves the plot along quickly.This unconventional writing style exposes the raw manifestations of Daisy’s self-absorption and angst and later powerfully illustrates Daisy’s transformation, deep devotion and love.
Daisy is a strong female protagonist whose flaws make her even more accessible and believable to the reader. Her narrative account is frank and full of biting sarcasm which makes the reader appreciate her candid honesty while glimpsing her internal pain. The circumstances that propel Daisy to England to live with her dead mother’s sister and cousins with whom she has had no prior contact is unclear, not only to the reader, but to Daisy as well.Was this move by Daisy’s father motivated by genuine concern for Daisy’s emotional and physical well-being or did sending her away simply afford him the opportunity to establish a “new” family without Daisy underfoot? Rosoff lets the reader question whether Davina the Diabolical was really trying to poison Daisy.
Piper is an innocent sprite. On her farm, she communes with the animals, speaks telepathically with her brothers and is at home with nature. She is young, vibrant and is a refreshing alternative to the gruesome darkness of war. Daisy is drawn to Piper’s honesty after growing up with a less than sincere father.
Up to this point, the reader has been introduced to the characters and has become intimately familiar with their environment. Rosoff’s exposition is intentionally vague, effectively illustrating Daisy’s own insecurities of her situation. The reader has become intimate with Daisy and feels her angst resulting from her father’s rejection and her uncertain future. She has been abandoned; she is angry and betrayed; and she has developed a protective layer of sarcasm and aloofness.
Of course, Aunt Penn’s role as the sole adult is short. Rosoff sends her off to present a speech regarding Peace in Oslo.A utopian independence reigns as the children are left alone. The reader becomes captivated by the prospect of a life void of rules and social conventions.
Inasmuch as Aunt Penn’s departure marks the inception of utopia, the sudden bombing of London marks another shift in the story development: the introduction of the war as antagonist and, with it, the commencement of rising action. The children, however, exist in an idyllic bubble that is removed from the rest of the world, and although they are aware of unrest outside, it does not permeate this bubble.
But…back at the farm…As long as the war isn’t knocking on their door, the children feel safe, comfortable, and satisfied. Conversely, the reader is uneasy and sure of the impending doom. The reader intuitively understands that Daisy’s sarcasm is her attempt to ward off the inevitable.
Of course, the British Army does knock upon the farmhouse door, and the children’s utopia is shattered. The Army sequesters the farmhouse and the children are separated. The girls are sent to one family; Edmond and Isaac to another. (Osbert takes a job with the British military.)
Daisy and Piper are sent to a military home.They learn much more about what is happening with the war in England and around the world from Major Mac. They begin to understand the ramifications of being without electricity, gas and the lack of common medical necessities. Importantly, Daisy communicates with Edmond on a metaphysical level and her love for him intensifies.
The two take on jobs (Daisy picking apples, and Piper commanding her sheepdog, Jet) and they meet others involved in the war effort. One of these people is a young man named Joe, who is irritating and obnoxious. While the work group is riding the truck through a checkpoint Joe makes comments to one of the terrorists, who immediately shoots him in the face. Knowing his own fate, Major Mac heroically dismounts the truck to try to retrieve Joe’s writhing body. The terrorists riddle Major Mac with bullets and the truck flees the scene leaving the bodies. After witnessing this gruesome event, Daisy and Piper decide to set off on their own to find the boys.
At this point it is evident that the teenager that Daisy had once been is gone. In her place, is a scarred and emotionally mature, young woman. The two return to the farm and after weeks simply existing, a noise startles Daisy. It is a telephone call from her father and she is whisked back to Manhattan.
While living at Gateshead Farm, both Isaac and Edmond had premonitions, as had Piper and Daisy, that something bad was about to happen. Isaac’s motivation was to survive and he forced Edmond to leave the farm. Edmond, however, had great difficulty abandoning those left at Gateshead and Isaac ended up leaving him to return home. The reader assumes that Edmond witnessed the massacre of those that he had lived with at the farm and that, for some unknown reason, he survived. He spent time as a prisoner of war, escaped and returned home to find Daisy gone. Suffering badly from post-traumatic stress disorder and a sense of betrayal, he barely speaks. He passes his time feverishly tending to a garden that blooms with, and I quote, “Passion, maybe. And something else. Rage.” (Rosoff 181)
Here we see both the character development of the antagonist as well as the growth of the protagonist, Daisy.Although the grammar and language are more carefully executed, Daisy’s adult impressions and knowledge of the war corresponds with her teenage description. This is a testament to the awareness, competence, and wherewithal of young adults in general.
Rosoff is intentionally vague when describing this story’s antagonist, which is the war in England and other unmentioned parts around the world. This technique allows the reader to insert their own worst fear while retaining a timeless effect to the work. What makes the story brutally discomforting is Rosoff’s completely plausible description of a Third World War.
As far as this author is aware, how I live now is a unique book in that it deals with a believable and tangible futuristic war and its powerful effect on the young adult main characters. None of these other works, however, seem to provide the chillingly realistic depiction of our potential realities that contemporary young adults may be entering. Rosoff reveals that her inspiration for the book came to her from the headlines.
Meg Rosoff thrusts Daisy into two starkly contrasting environments which effectively deliver several themes. We first see Daisy as a seemingly helpless and rueful young teen that is enamored with and swept up in her perfect utopian existence. She falls in love, explores her sexuality and develops a secure sense of independence. She finds that she is able to competently sustain herself in a world void of adult assistance. And although her actions contradict, the reader is aware of Daisy’s developing conscience, which acknowledges the inappropriateness of her behavior and seems to recognize that ultimately she will face her antagonist (i.e., the war). This portion of Rosoff’s book explores themes that apply to all teens and is easy to digest. When Rosoff contrasts this self-absorbed behavior with the brutality of war, many difficult themes are addressed. These are issues that some individuals never confront, and the maturity that Daisy attains is far beyond mere “coming of age.” Rosoff thrusts Daisy into an unimaginably horrific, futuristic war, and Daisy is left to fend for herself. As different facets of Daisy’s character emerge, the reader gets to know a young woman with a unique fortitude for survival and a depth of caring that many individuals never attain. As readers, we applaud her resolve and question our own ability to cope with disaster. Meg Rosoff’show I live now is a story that will effectively entrance young adult readers for generations to come. Fifteen year-old Daisy’s narrative is gritty, honest, and sarcastically witty. It speaks from the perspective of a disgruntled, relationship-scared teen whose harsh emotional wall is slowly chipped away to reveal a deeply caring and tenacious young woman. Her paragraph-length sentences, random capitalization, and lack of punctuation enhance Daisy’s credibility as a teen narrator and make the reader truly grasp the raw emotions that Daisy is putting into words. After reading the last word of the book, the reader’s own heart and mind are left ripped open and exposed for self reflection.
The young adult reader (any reader, honestly) will be forced to digest Daisy’s experiences and determine how they themselves will live now in a post-9/11 world.
Printz Award Winner EvaluationHow I Live Nowby Meg Rosoff
“Daisy’s account, in eccentrically punctuated run-on sentences, has a breathless directness, a mixture of urbane self-mockery and first-time wonder, that is utterly captivating.” Dierdra Baker of Horn Book Magazine (Baker 598)
EXPOSITION Meet Daisy ProtagonistNot Elizabeth because she is not “dignified and sad like an old-fashioned queen,” but “plain, not much there to notice.” (Rosoff 1) The circumstances that propel Daisy to England to live with an aunt and cousins with whom she has had no prior contact is unclear, not only to the reader, but to Daisy as well.
Daisy’s step mother “Davina the Diabolical” is expecting her first child
Daisy suspects her stepmother of trying to poison her and has ceased eating.
Daisy’s father has sent her away under the pretense of hoping that Daisy can confront her eating disorder.
Meet Edmond Dynamic character / Love interest“…not exactly what you’d expect from the average fourteen-year-old what with the CIGARETTE and hair that looked like he cut it himself with a hatchet in the dead of night, but aside from that he’s exactly like some kind of mutt, you know the ones you see at the dog shelter who are kind of hopeful and sweet and put their nose straight into your hand when they meet you with a certain kind of dignity and you know from that second that you’re going to take him home? Well, that’s him. Only he took me home.” (Rosoff 3) EXPOSITION Daisy lands at London’s airport expecting to meet her Aunt Penn, but instead meets her 14 year-old cousin Edmond, who is not at all what she envisioned. Rosoff uses Daisy’s narration to achieve multiple purposes:
To introduce the love interest, observed by Daisy as a complex character with a tough exterior and a vulnerable, mutt-soft interior
To reveal Daisy’s gut reaction of surprise and instant attraction
EXPOSITION Meet Piper (minor character)“At first I liked Piper best because she just looked straight at me and said We are very glad you’ve come Elizabeth.” (Rosoff 6) Innocent sprite Communes with animals, speaks telepathically with her brothers At home with nature Young, vibrant and refreshing alternative to the realities of war Daisy is drawn to Piper’s honesty, after growing up with a less than sincere father.
EXPOSITION Other Characters (static characters)
Osbert – the oldest at 16 years of age; independent and easily assumes the role of the oldest male of the family
Isaac – Edmond’s twin; introspective and quiet; more interested in the farm animals
CLIMAX Foreshadowed in a nightmare that Daisy has one night when she and Piper are camping near a river. Piper begins thrashing about in her sleep and as Daisy calms her down, she realizes that Piper, too, can hear the screaming in her head. Desperate and uncertain of the condition in which they would find the boys, the two press on urgently towards their destination. Then upon sighting birds circling overhead, they comprehend the presence of the foxes… “My first thought was that they were beautiful, sleek and well fed and vivid orangey red with sharp little intelligent faces and it didn’t occur to me till second thought to wonder why there were so many of them and why they didn’t run away. Well why would they. It was paradise. Dead things everywhere and when the stink hit you it was like nothing you ever smelled before and when you hear people say something smells like death trust them because that’s the only way to describe what it smells like, putrid and rotting and so foul your stomach tries to vault out through your throat and if your brain has any sense it wants to jump out of your skull and run away as fast as possible with or without the rest of you so it doesn’t ever have to find out what’s making that smell.” (Rosoff 140)
CLIMAX Daisy’s Transformation Daisy and Piper did not find what they were fearing, but that did little to settle them. The boys’ fate was still unknown. Daisy recognizes the task ahead of her and begins the awful task of trying to identify the decaying bodies. “One by one I approached the bodies, nice and methodical, saw how dead each one was and sometimes how young, and one by one each turned out not to be the person I most feared it would be.”(Rosoff 142) All the bodies looked as if they were fleeing from some unknown terror. When Piper finds her beloved goat dying in the barn along with nearly a hundred other dead and dying farm animals, it is Daisy who assumes the role of adult, covers him with a grain sack, and shoots him in the head. “We didn’t speak but I held Piper’s hand and told her over and over that I loved her through the blood beating in my veins and running down through my hand and into her fingers. Her hand started out limp and cold like a dead thing but I willed it back to life until after hours of walking the fingers started to grip mine, a little at first and then harder, and eventually I knew for sure it was still alive.” (Rosoff 144)
After being wrenched from England, Daisy spends months hospitalized, then years waiting, but as Daisy says, “I also took a job, read books, spent days in air-raid shelters, filled out rationing papers, wrote letters, stayed alive.” (Rosoff 170)
Daisy returns to England to find Piper a vibrant young woman, in love with a medical student.
Edmond, who witnessed the massacre suffers badly from post-traumatic stress disorder. He tends a garden that is filled with “Passion, maybe. And something else. Rage.” (Rosoff 181)
Traditional punctuation and grammar is much less demanding on the senses and digesting Daisy’s words is effortless.
The reader is comforted by this straightforward text.
In this way, Rosoff reassures us that Daisy has acclimated with her world and is adjusting to adulthood.
“Teens may feel that they have experienced a war themselves as they vicariously witness Daisy’s worst nightmares. Like the heroine, readers will emerge from the rubble much shaken, a little wiser and with perhaps a greater sense of humanity.” Publishers Weekly
“I became a gardener, of sorts.” (Rosoff 192) Resolution
An older Daisy concludes the story, wiser and more self-aware.
She recognizes that by protecting and caring for Piper, she saved herself.
Tending not only to the plants alongside Edmond; she tends to Edmond himself.
She realizes now that what she does best is “fighting back” and dedicates her life to being with Edmond.
Antagonist…WAR Teenage Daisy’s Description of War Mature Daisy’s description of war “Here’s the sort of thing we’d hear, all in low hushed tones especially when us Children were around, and if it doesn’t sound so bad to you try playing it on an endless loop while you listen and smile politely until you’re your cheeks go into spasm and you develop a twitch: “You could ask a thousand people on seven continents what it was all about and you wouldn’t get the same answer twice; nobody really knew for sure but you could bet one or more of the following words would crop up: oil, money, land, sanctions, democracy. The tabloids waxed nostalgic for the good old days of WWII, when the enemy all spoke a foreign language and the army went somewhere else to fight.” (Rosoff 176) My brother-in-law says it’s the French bastards. My friend in Chelsea said the looting is terrible and she got the most amazing wide-screen TV. My neighbor in The Lords says it’s the Chinese. Have you noticed that no Jews have been killed? There’s a nuclear bunker under Marks & Spencer that’s only open to share holders. People are eating their pets. The Queen is Bearing Up. The Queen is Breaking Down. The Queen is one of them.”(Rosoff, 41)
ANTAGONIST… WAR Rosoff conceives of a third world war by snatching emotional reverberations from current events and generalizing them. She extracts the essence of all too familiar wartime stories, those of World Wars I & II, Vietnam and more recent terrorist attacks and mixes them together to create a futuristic, yet utterly timeless, account of a yet-to-occur worldwide conflict. Vague Description of Antagonist:
“More central to the potency of Rosoff’s debut, though, is the ominous prognostication of what a third world war might look like, and the opportunity it provides for teens to imagine themselves, like Daisy, exhibiting courage and resilience in roles traditionally occupied by earlier generations.” Jennifer Mattson, Booklist (Mackin)
Similar Works? Historical wars: Rooted in history Outcomes have been determined. Fictitious wars: Outside of reality Horror of war is buffered by fantasy. “I remember having an e-mail exchange with a friend in the US—she was saying, ‘Britain is going to follow America into war,” and I was saying, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Then it happened, and I thought, ‘This could be the beginning of a new kind of war.’” Meg Rosoff(Page 28) Uncertain post-9/11 world Effects of global warming
Being solely responsible for the life of another
“The book is about loss, and the urgent need for love. It’s about the fact that violence leads to more violence, and war to more war. That we’re responsible for the people we care about. That deep human connections can repair a lot of emotional damage. That children are endowed with rare and subtle talents. That our faults are sometimes far more useful in life than our so-called ‘good’ qualities.” Meg Rosoff(Gale n.p.)
“After all this time, I know exactly where I belong. Here. With Edmond. And that’s how I live now.”(Rosoff 194)
Works Cited Baker, Deirdre F. “Meg Rosoff: How I Live Now." The Horn Book Magazine 80.5 (Sept-Oct 2004): 597(2). General OneFile. Gale. Loudoun County Public Library. Web. 24 Sept. 2009 <http://find.galegroup.com/gps/start.do?prodId=IPS>. Davey, Douglas P. Rev. of How I Live Now. School Library Journal, September, 2004, p. 216. Print Mattson, Jennifer. Rev. of How I Live Now. Booklist, September 1, 2004, p. 123. Print “Meg Rosoff.” Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vol. 70. General OneFile. Gale. 2006. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. Loudoun County Public Library. Document Number: K1603001539. Web. 24 Sept. 2009. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC>. Rev. of How I Live Now. Publishers Weekly, July 5, 2004, p. 56. Print Page, Benedicte. "Living through wartime: Meg Rosoff talks about her debut novel for young adults, which features a contemporary England overrun by war.(Book News)(Book Review)." The Bookseller 5131 (June 4, 2004): 28(1). General OneFile. Gale. Loudoun County Public Library. Web. 24 Sept. 2009 <http://find.galegroup.com/gps/start.do?prodId=IPS>. Rosoff, Meg. how I live now. New York: Wendy Lamb Book, 2004. Print Wysocki, Barbara. How I Live Now. School Library Journal 51.8 (August 2005): 68(1). General OneFile. Gale. Loudoun County Public Library. Web. 23 Sept. 2009 <http://find.galegroup.com/gps/start.do?prodId=IPS>.
Images from Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. New York: Wendy Lamb Book, 2004. Print.