I finished this book four days ago and I’m still trying to process its emotional effect on me. I was completely lost in it for all of last week, and I was emotionally “off” some of those days because of what was happening in the book! And the funny thing is, if I’d known what the book was about, I don’t think I ever would have picked it up.
This book is about Daisy, a modern 15-year-old from New York City who has become anorexic as a protest to her dad’s choice in women (and because the hatred is so mutual that Daisy is convinced “Davina the Diabolical” is trying to poison her). Her dad sends her to spend the summer with her four cousins in England (who Daisy’s never met), and about a week after she arrives, World War III breaks out. And Daisy and her cousin Edmond fall in love.
And everyone gets separated, and we follow Daisy and Piper (a sweet 9-year-old girl who strongly reminds me of Psyche in Till We Have Faces) on their struggle against nature, the unnamed Enemy, and a serious lack of navigational skills as they try to make it back to Edmond and Isaac and their home. This section of the book is somewhat Hunger-Games-esque. (And while The Hunger Games was fine, it didn’t do that much for me.)
(And a quick note on Piper/Psyche: I was terrified the entire book long that Piper or Isaac or Edmond would die, on the principle that often people who are that pure and good and ‘otherworldly’ are taken – they just don’t seem to belong here. And also because the book was tail-spinning quickly towards tragedy. But despite my terror, I couldn’t stop reading, because I HAD to know what happened to all of them.)
And the whole tone of the book is that of a sarcastic, disillusioned teenager – which is, of course, exactly what Daisy is – but which also makes the book remind me of The Fault in Our Stars stylistically (which I also loved). It’s so…honest. And the nature of three of the four cousins – quiet, intuitive, almost supernaturally in tune with nature and other people, and quirky – reminds me of the Murray family from the Wrinkle in Time books.
While I love three of the four books I’ve said this one reminds me of, I don’t generally go for books where 1) there’s a survivalist/futuristic/nearly apocalyptic element, 2) the romance of the novel is between cousins (although this doesn’t bother me – 100 years ago marrying cousins was completely normal; it’s just that modern society has arbitrarily decided it’s weird), 3) the protagonist has an eating disorder… etc., etc.
So, why did I obsess over this book for the past week? Well, I’m somewhat still trying to figure that out. But I do have a partial answer: It addresses the topics of belonging, love, the fluid nature of the concepts of “family” and “home,” learning to cope in the absence of both physical and emotional needs, adapting and learning to simply go on under extreme circumstances, PTSD, learning to heal together — and nature being a part of that healing.
Here are some quotes I especially love:
- Edmond gets the family together to go out fishing for a day: “And I forgot to say, ‘I hate fishing, and fish, too, now that you mention it,’… And next thing I knew, Edmond and Isaac and Piper and I were sitting in the jeep, and bumping down a bumpy old road, and the sun was streaming in the windows, and it felt much nicer than usual to be alive, even if it meant some fish were going to have to die.”
- After the war begins: “As every day passed, you could see the panic on more and more people’s faces, and the rest carefully composed their features to look somber, and made clucking noises, and said how awful it was. But once we were away from them, we actually felt pretty cheerful and laughed on the walk back to the house – partly to cheer Piper up, and partly because it still felt like an adventure. And because the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful walk, war or no war.”
- On how being in love is like being hungry for the other person, and Daisy relates that to her eating disorder: “But it was like some witch’s curse, where the more we tried to stop being hungry, the more starving we got. It was the first time in as long as I could remember that hunger wasn’t a punishment, or a crime, or a weapon, or a mode of self-destruction. It was simply a way of being in love.”
- When Daisy and Piper are taken to live with an older couple, and Daisy is shocked that the Major is willing to tell her exactly where Edmond and Isaac are: “And after that I didn’t know what to say except possibly, ‘How about showing me exactly where on a map, and leaving me the car keys in case we decide to go see them in the dead of night and never come back?’ I don’t get nearly enough credit in life for the things I manage not to say. Of course, in order to survive, Piper and I needed to have a plan, and I was the one who was going to have to make it… because Piper’s job was to be a mystical creature, and mine was to get things done here on earth. Which was just how the cards were dealt, and there was no point thinking of it any other way.”
- On why she was kept in the hospital: “I was dying, of course, but then, we all are – every day, in perfect increments. I was dying of loss.”
- “The soldier had stamped my passport Family in heavy black capital letters, and I checked it now for reassurance, and because I liked how fierce the word looked. ‘I’m coming,’ I said silently to everything I’d left behind, and headed for the single, ragged bus that would take me home.”
Basically, you should read it. It’s wonderful.