Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What I Read and How It Felt So True

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
5Q 4P; J/S/A

It's 1946, the war is over, and life is beginning to get back to normal. For Evie, that means her stepfather Joe is home, Bev, her mother, can stop working, and Evie can just relax and enjoy being a young teenaged girl. While her best friend is boy crazy and ready to jump into romance, Evie's not interested yet. She lives in the knowledge that her mother is gorgeous and that she will never be able to attract a man's attention the way her mother can. All that changes when Joe impulsively decides the family should take a vacation in Florida.

They soon discover that summer is the off-season in Florida. They're practically the only people in their hotel, other than the Graysons...and Peter. While Joe quickly gets involved in business dealings with Mr. Grayson, it's Peter who captures Evie's attention. He's a young, handsome, utterly charming war veteran. They first connect when Peter finds Evie hiding in the shadows of the pool after being bitterly disappointed by an "is that all there is?" experience at her first real dance. Peter invites her to dance, and Evie is smitten. This is a man. This is a dance. She can't stop thinking about him, and for the first time, she understands what all this talk of boys and love really means. In the days that follow, she finds (makes!) every opportunity to spend time with Peter. And it's not her imagination - he seems to be seeking her out, too. He takes her for drives and to the movies. And sure, they often take her mother along, but that's just for cover. It's Evie that Peter is interested in.

Evie begins to blossom. She's been so sure for so long that she will never be as pretty or enticing as her mother is. But Peter doesn't seem to feel that way. And Mrs. Grayson takes her shopping to buy her clothes that are a far cry from the little girl dresses her mother always buys her, and Evie can't help realizing that she can do these grown-up dresses justice. Peter notices, too. The kisses he gives her are not the kisses you give a little girl.

But things take a darker turn when Evie realizes that Joe doesn't like Peter and doesn't trust him. Peter says they spent time together during the war, but Joe doesn't want to talk about it. There are hints, whispers, suggestions that there is more going on here than meets the eye, that Peter's presence at the hotel isn't mere coincidence. Peter seems to know something that Joe wants kept a secret. Joe and Evie's mother begin to fight, and Evie realizes that one of the things that they're fighting over is Peter and his relationship with her mother. Well, that's ridiculous. All those times that she and Bev and Peter went to the movies and out for a drive or to restaurants, they brought Bev along so nobody would give Peter a hard time for spending time with a girl her age. It's Evie that Peter is interested in. Isn't it?

Joe, Evie's mother, and Peter charter a boat and take it out on the open sea just as a hurricane starts up along the coast. Only Joe and Bev come home alive.

What really happened out on that boat, and why did it happen? It's not just Evie who wants to know. So do the police, the judge, the jury, and the tabloid reporters. And Evie has to decide what to tell them. What did she see, and how does she lie?


It's easy to see why this book won the 2008 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. I'm awfully glad I wasn't on the award committe, because it was up against some wonderful books : Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharpe (just realized I have an unfinished post on this spectacular book), The Underneath by Kathy Appel (which I haven't read and don't have in our Teen collection), and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (I never uploaded my post on this one, either). I would never have been able to choose a winner, though I know my vote would have gone to either Anderson, Tharp, or Blundell. All three books feature exceptional writing about characters dealing with heartbreaking situations, and they all really moved me.

Blundell does a beautiful job capturing the joys and miseries of leaving girlhood and innocence behind. I'm writing this up over a month after finishing the book, and as I try to write and capture what I felt so many weeks ago, the feeling of being pulled and stretched is what keeps coming back to me. Evie is reaching for something that seems at first to be just out of her grasp. Then it's in her hands, but yanked away so that she has to chase after it again. I picture her being pulled and stretched in all directions, at first welcoming the feeling, but then being stretched so far it's painful, wanting to pull back to her comfort zone but unable to do it. I wanted to shield her from the pain I knew was coming, and I wanted to give her support when she faced the hard decisions with her new-found and hard-won maturity. Evie's growth is a masterpiece of writing.

Though I'm focusing here on the girl-becomes-woman aspect, there's a lot going on in this book beyond that. Guilt and innocence come up again and again in various situations. There's food for thought on every page.

What I Saw and How I Lied is begging to be made into a movie. (Please, would-be producers, don't cast Dakota Fanning in it! This one needs a Jena Malone/Evan Rachel Wood/Clare Danes type.)


I loved these for the vividness of the descriptions, the traces of humor from a serious person in a very serious book, and the perfectly captured moments of stepping out of childhood and into adulthood.

...every time I saw a palm tree it was a little shock, like life was yelling in my ear that this was me, and it was really happening. (p. 113)

Mom took golf lessons, which proved tome how much a place can change you, because Mom's old idea of exercise was crossing her legs. (p. 119)

I don't know when it happened, but things started to turn, just a little bit, like when you smell the bottle of milk, and you know it's going to be sour tomorrow, but you pour it on your cereal anyway. (p. 119)

Squandered virtue was a sin, Margie told me. But she had eight kids in her family. It seemed to me that her mother squandered her virtue all over the place. (p. 121)

I wanted to of music, of dances, of falling in love and getting married before he shipped overseas. And the songs - (italics) I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places(/italics) - all that longing, all that waiting. It made sense to me now. Every lyric. It wasn't about just hearing it on the radio. The strings were stretched and quivering and going crazy inside me. If Peter and I had met during the war, would we have gotten engaged? Would things have moved faster? I knew girls who were pre-engaged at school. I used to laugh at their smugness. Now I wanted it. Time rushed at me like a subway, all air and heat. (p. 129)

I could have fought her. I could have taken what I knew about what he felt and thrown it at her, proved I was an adult now, just like her. But feeling grown up? I discovered something right then: It comes and it goes. I was still afraid of my mom. (p. 153)

I saw wanting in Wally's eyes. Now I could recognize it as easy as Margie waving at me across Hillside Avenue. What would happen if I got hold of that want and rode it like a raft to see where it could take me? Joe had left me behind like a kid. I didn't want to be a kid. (p. 171)

I didn't know where [Mom] had put her pizzazz. Maybe she had squashed it in that little lace-trimmed pocket of her dress. (p. 232)


  1. My book group read this a while back and I put together this blog page on it:
    I was the only one who really loved the book. It was my turn to host, and we had a dinner that might have been served post World War II, candy that was mentioned in the book. I downloaded all the songs in the book, and played them as background on my ipod. And I printed out posters of movies and stars that were mentioned. It was a lot of fun to do!

  2. That's a great resource page. I'm interested in hearing what your book group had to say about the book. I thought it so beautifully done and so evocative of the time and of Evie's stage in life. I'm really curious to hear what it was about the book that didn't hit them just right.

  3. I liked this book very much, too. I found it very noir.


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