In Esther Ehrlich’s middle grade novel Nest, 11-year-old Naomi “Chirp”…
This has to be a terrible time to be a pop YA novelist. The paranormal couplings have been played out and there is so much dystopia that one might suspect dystopia is secretly a 15-year-old’s version of utopia. So few options remain, short of a summer romance between a surly teen and a misunderstood Sasquatch, set deep in the Redwoods.
Enter Meg Rosoff, who gives us some pretty standard fare with her novel How I Live Now — with a couple twists. Our young American hero Daisy gets sent to stay with her aunt and cousins in England. Her mom is dead; Her dad is remarried and the demonic stepmother is pregs with Daisy’s replacement.
A few of the hiccups: England has become a battlefield. Travel has become complicated and Aunt Penn is trapped far, far away from the family farm. Daisy has an oft-hinted at eating disorder. And, the big of biggies, the story’s hot-n-heavy is going on between Daisy and her slightly younger cousin Edmond.
Eventually the war moves closer and affects the kids who had been having a pretty idyllic summer between the swimming, chain smoking, and cousin diddling. Soon there is rationing and rumors and outbreaks and all sorts of other catastrophic words. Soldiers take over the land, sending the girls over here and the boys over there. Readers follow Daisy and Piper, who go nose-to-the-grindstone helping out the good guys, while secretly plotting a way back to the boys.
This shorty gets a scrunchy-nosed, half-hearted “Meh.”
The deets are vague. What’s this war, who is the enemy, and why would Daisy’s father send her to summer somewhere dangerous? The best parts are when the girls traipse across the country-side to find the rest of the family, camping out in deserted huts, stumbling upon massive bloody crime scenes, and accidentally consuming psychedelic mushrooms, but even these stories are just spare retellings that don’t get to the root of the conflict or leave a reader with any sort of look-out-below! anxiety.
Rosoff is also asking readers to suspend too much disbelief, including the entire ending of the story which, spoiler alert, essentially has Daisy magically flown out of England and back to her father’s loving arms, leaving Piper camped out in a secluded barn with just a dog for companionship.
This book just doesn’t feel very different and the parts that are different just aren’t compelling enough to make it stand out. I say this knowing that it has been adapted into a movie and is probably playing on a screen near you as we speak. What do I know.