I can't really sum this book up. And that's a good thing. This story is such a fine mixture of lyricism, humour, horror and beauty, that it left me literally gasping. That fact that it is a debut novel from a first time writer is amazing.
The protagonist of this story is fifteen year old Elizabeth, known to all as Daisy. As a first person narrator she's wonderful - her voice is unique and both hilariously funny and, at times, stingingly poignant. We meet her as she gets off the plane in England, having been sent away as an inconvenience by her father and his new, pregnant wife.
Daisy meets her four cousins - the most important of whom, in the story, are nine year old girl Piper and fourteen year old Edmond - and her aunt Penn in their rambling, tumbledown manor house in a rural village. The sleepy, beautiful setting and the kooky welcome extended to Daisy seem almost like a dream come true - at first.
But it isn't a dream. After only a few days, aunt Penn is called away to another country and the family is left alone as war is declared. For a while the children manage alone, but then the army takes over their home and split them up - the boys go to a local farm and Piper and Daisy to live with an army major and his family miles away.
The country is soon overrun with enemy troops, who kill as easily and as casually as blinking, and Piper - a beautful, empathetic child - and Daisy are on the run, not just for their lives, but for the life they want to re-gain. Struggling to survive on the food they can scrounge from the land and trying - always, always trying - to find their way back to the rest of the family, they encounter nightmares and horror, and are sustained by the almost psychic connected they both feel with the boys. But in the end, will that be enough to save any of them?
Let me make one more try at summing this story up. It's wonderfully written and bittersweet. It's about survival, not just of the body but of the soul and the heart. It's a tale about love and the death of innocence, about childhood and growing up. It's about finding out who you really are. As Daisy says: 'In the end, I found out what I'm good at is fighting back'.
My final advice on this book - bring tissues.