I read very few books that I truly enjoyed last year. As I said, I'm getting picky. Books are just... so vampirey, and I only read vaguely realistic chick-lit (and only if it's actually humorous). Rampant romances are just horrible, because I don't care how much you brood and scowl, I don't care if you're this season's version of Mr Darcy, I DON'T WANT DETAIL ABOUT YOU SLEEPING AROUND. Crime, heck no. Contemporary literature is, more often than not, overdone (prove me wrong; I'm glad to be wrong) and everyone raves about Tim Winton over here. I don't think that grammatical failing counts as postmodernism (come on, Tim, use a flipping full stop once in a while), so I don't approve.
Anyway, due to the nature of my uni studies last year, I was reading more short stories than I was novels. However, second semester introduced me to an absolute gem.
Meg Rosoff does a fantastic job in this novel. After reading Just In Case, I was a little hesitant when I saw her debut on our reading list. Maybe I read Just In Case too young (14 or 15, I would have been), but something was just creepy. And, upon a quick Wikipedia hunt, I found out it was essentially a World War 3/Apocalypse kind of situation. I don't do those novels.
Best novel I read last year, hands down.
I've noticed lately that YA novels constantly blur boundaries between adult and child fiction. Just looking at the market for them, you notice that many books are sold in different categories across the world. (Can't quite remember specifics, but I think Marcus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief, was marketed as adult in the US, and as YA over here.) And you see that so fully with How I Live Now. Ordinarily, I wouldn't think a book dealing with incest, war, terrorism, eating disorders and survival in the most brutal of conditions, to be marketed towards children. I mean, if Harry Potter made the librarian mothers howl, surely this would, right?
But Rosoff sucks you in. You forget, forget that these are taboos. Because in war, in times of survival, the taboos seem to fall away. You do what you can to feel alive. I've never been in such a situation - massively blessed, I am - but I know what it's like to feel every day is a mental battle. And if screaming, if shouting, if forcing yourself to be ill makes you feel like something exists, you do it.
So I loved Daisy. I thought she was magnificent, a female protagonist young children actually need. And that's both young boys and young girls. Daisy had passion. She had strength. She did have maternal instincts, but she had almost a Lady Macbeth desire to let a typically male side of her take over, the one that takes nothing from anyone. And her maternal side wasn't the 50s housewife style. It was the lioness, snarling at whoever dares touch her family.
One more thing I noticed was that Rosoff had a Blyton influence, but more if you handed a Blyton novel to Tim Burton and let him go to town. And rather than the males having all the say - Julian, in the Famous Five, hogged the spotlight all the time, while Anne cried every time something scared her - I think Rosoff was getting at the times having changed. That we're not stuck in a time period where women are subpar to men, and that women can be just as strong, if not stronger, than men. Edmond, at the end, sat there in a depressed funk, and it was Daisy who had to fix it. Daisy chose her name - and I know from writing myself that I choose characters' names with their life paths in mind. She didn't have to masquerade as a boy, a la George, in order to assume her position as a leader. Piper had the instincts that Daisy had, too, but she also showed that age is no barrier for survival.
No matter the age, I class this novel as essential reading. For young adults, it shows that no matter your circumstances - parents divorcing, death, depression, war - you do have the ability to survive, despite how kids are sheltered now. And for adults, it shows much the same. You can survive. You have always been able to survive.
And Rosoff handles this beautifully.