I just got around to reading Ms. Blundell’s National Book Award-winning young adult novel this weekend. If it wasn’t a 2008 publication, I would add it to my list of Best YA Books of 2009. It was nominated for the 2009 Cybils in the YA Fiction category, probably because it was published toward the end of 2008. And I’m not second guessing the panelists, but there must be some extra-fine books on the finalist list to have beaten this one out.
The setting and atmosphere reminded me of Mad Men and The Great Gatsby, although it takes place about a year after the end of World War II, in between Jay Gatsby’s follies (1922) and Don Draper’s escapades (1960’s). The setting and characters feel historically authentic, kind of film noir, with lots of cigarettes and Scotch and red lipstick and dancing and full skirts like those in White Christmas. I could imagine Alfred Hitchcock making a movie of this book, but I don’t know of anyone nowadays who could do it with the right touch.
The story itself is Hitchcock-ish, with “adultery, blackmail, and possible homicide,” very much dependent on the reader’s point of view, with a few surprising twists and turns along the way. I can imagine a very young Grace Kelly playing the lead part, a fifteen year old named Evie who has a crush on a twenty-three year old ex-GI named Peter (Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant?). There are a lot of scenes in which it’s obvious that something else is going on underneath the surface of the dialog, but it’s not so obvious just what that something else is. Hitchcock would have had a blast with camera angles and the characters’ complicated interactions.
The book is quite well-written. Evie, the narrator, has a voice that is vintage 1940’s and typical fifteen year old girl, going on forty, anxious to grow up and unsure of how. I chose a few lines to whet your appetite, almost at random:
“Now I recognized that other woman, the one I’d seen angry and turning her face away. All that pizzazz and underneath it was a whole lot of sad.”
“Ugly. Once in the schoolyard Herbie Connell threw a rock and it hit me in the back. This felt like that, ugly hitting me in the back. . . . I wanted to put my hands over my ears. I was gulping my tears into my mouth. I didn’t want to hear any more ugly tonight. So I ran.”
“I looked like a doll, a dish. The image in the mirror—it wasn’t me. If I had the clothes and the walk, I could make up a whole new person. I wasn’t who I used to be, anyway. A different me would do the thing I had to do today. The dish would do it.”
What I Saw and How I Lied is well worth your reading time as a coming-of-age novel, or a psychological thriller, or a study in family dynamics, or just a thoughtful, insight-filled romance. I found it intriguing, hard to put down, and fun to try to figure out.
Other bloggers said:
Bookshelves of Doom: “Evie Spooner’s story is a coming-of-age story. Like a lot of coming-of-age stories, there is a tragedy. Like a lot of coming-of-age stories, there is a first love. Like a lot of coming-of-age stories, our heroine learns that the adults in her life are not the shining stars she has always believed them to be. There are lies, there is betrayal, there is injustice, and Evie sees it all. Heck, as the title suggests, she participates in some of it.”
The Reading Zone: “I hate to summarize the book, because Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. To summarize more would give away too much of the plot and I would hate to ruin it for anyone.”
The YA YA YA’S: “Blundell did an amazing job creating a moody, atmospheric, noirish novel. You can practically see the action unfurling before your eyes, complete with cigarette smoke wafting toward the ceiling. The atmosphere is so evocative that it elevates the quality of the book.”
At 5 Minutes for Books they’re inviting you to share a review that you read at anyone’s recommendation. I read What I Saw and How I Lied because of the many, many reviews I saw in the Kidlitosphere and because it won a National Book Award.