Meg Rosoff wins Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 6th April 2016

Meg_6219.jpgCongratulations to Meg Rosoff, who has won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s biggest prize for children’s and young adult literature.

The £430,000 award, which honours the entire body of Rosoff’s work, is hugely deserved. The jury’s citation reads as follows:“Meg Rosoff’s young adult novels speak to the emotions as well as the intellect. In sparkling prose, she writes about the search for meaning and identity in a peculiar and bizarre world. Her brave and humorous stories are one-of-a-kind. She leaves no reader unmoved.”

It’s a decade since my daughter suggested I read How I Live NowRosoff’s modern-day “coming of age” novel. Knowing how much I adore I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, she knew I’d love this one too. I bought the audiobook and on a long drive back from a holiday in Cornwall we listened to it together. The journey took five hours and we were so mesmerised we barely uttered a word. The moment we got home I borrowed my daughter’s copy and read it for real.

How I Live Now is a novel that can be read and appreciated by teenagers and adults alike. Like all my favourite books, it’s a novel you can read countless times and always discover something you hadn’t spotted the first time round.

From the novel’s arresting first sentence – “My name is Elizabeth but no one’s ever called me that” – I was gripped. The style is raw, edgy and quite unlike anything else. Writing in the first person, often in the present tense and with scant punctuation, Rosoff gets inside the head of 15-year-old Daisy (as Elizabeth is always called) so convincingly that it’s hard to believe Rosoff once admitted her experience of that age group was “zero.”

The novel is set during wartime in a future England. Rich, spoiled, anorexic New Yorker Daisy arrives to stay with her four beguiling cousins at their dilapidated country farmhouse and inadvertently gets caught up in a terrifying war that changes all their lives.

One moment I was marvelling at the eccentricities of Daisy’s cousins – 14-year-old Edmond, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a haircut that looks “like he cut it himself with a hatchet in the dead of the night,” drives her home from the airport in a battered old jeep – and enjoying the bitter-sweet account of the burgeoning love affair between Daisy and Edmond. The next, the reverie ends as the country is suddenly plunged into a shocking and depraved war.

Rosoff’s writing flows with such assurance that it’s easy to rush through this short novel without stopping to admire its skill. But each time I put this book down I can still hear Daisy’s sharp voice in my head. I can still feel her agony at her separation from Edmond and I still want to know if the cousins can ever put the damage inflicted by the war behind them. It’s a very fine book.

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