What is it with Great Britain and the end of the world? First it was 28 Days Later with its zombie-infested London, its unnervingly bucolic countrysides and that unforgettable image of a dead highway with a burning Manchester at the end of it. Now there is Meg Rosoff's similarly haunting How I Live Now, where war invades Great Britain, the power goes down, and 21st century teenagers are suddenly faced with the prospect of learning how to scratch out their own survival.
Fifteen-year-old Daisy has lived her whole life in Manhattan but when her father's new wife gets pregnant, she's summarily exiled to go live with her cousins in rural England. World-weary and sophisticated beyond her years from life in the city, Daisy isn't prepared for their simple, unobtrusive kindness nor is she prepared for her cousin Edmond's odd habit of being able to answer her questions before she's even voiced them. But nobody is prepared for what happens shortly after Daisy's arrival when World War III breaks out, there's no way to communicate with the outside world and Daisy's aunt - a diplomat - is stranded in Oslo.
At first, Daisy and her cousins live an idyllic existence with a great big rambling house at their disposal, a nearby creek to fish and no discernible bedtimes to observe. It isn't long, however, before they are found out. Separated by their gender, Daisy and her young cousin Piper are sent away with only each other to rely on.
This unnerving, astonishing first novel is categorized as a "YA" title, but readers shouldn't shun it because it's a "kids book." Meg Rosoff imbues her heroine with a very real, very "teenagery" voice -- you can almost hear Daisy rolling her eyes and looking vacant when the adults are around -- yet creates a character you can't help wanting to alternately protect/hang out with. As the war intensifies, Daisy deepens and grows without even being aware of it herself. But what kind of world will she inherit?
With shades of A Wrinkle in Time and the acerbic, world-gone-mad wallop of Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, in particular), How I Live Now is a timely and profoundly affecting book.