Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Recommendation/Review: WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED

WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED by Judy Blundell is a fantastic and unique YA novel—a beautifully written coming-of-age, glamorous, and engaging 1940s noir story. If you’re not familiar with noir, think of those old black-and-white mystery/thriller/crime movies where the men wear fedoras and the women wear white gloves, and everything happens amid shadows and cigarette smoke. Here’s an example (from page 246):

“The match snapped, then sizzled, and I woke up fast. I heard my mother inhale as she took a long pull on her cigarette. Her lips stuck on the filter, so I knew she was still wearing lipstick…I breathed in smoke and My Sin perfume.”

The novel begins in post-World War II Queens, New York, and is told from the perspective of almost-sixteen-year-old Evie Spooner—a self-described plain girl who admires the beauty of her alluring blond mother, Beverly, and adores her stepfather, Joe, a WWII veteran and appliance store owner. But everything changes for Evie when she accompanies Beverly and Joe on a spontaneous trip to Florida. There, she falls for twenty-three-year-old Peter, and something happens between Peter, Beverly, and Joe that will have a permanent impact on Evie’s life.

Of course, I can’t tell you what that “something” is! But it’s mysterious and intriguing, and it makes Evie grow and change and mature almost overnight.

There were so many things I loved about this novel that I could go on and on, but I’ll narrow it down. First, I loved that it's set in the 1940s. I think it’s wonderful that authors of realistic YA fiction have branched out into various eras—especially time periods that are not often written about in this genre. Blundell captures the period perfectly, especially with references to the lingering after-effects of the war, as well as the fashion, music, 1940s slang, and (unfortunately but historically accurate) the racial and religious bigotry of this era. I also loved that although Evie at first seems more innocent than contemporary teens, we see a different side of her when she becomes involved with Peter and when she is forced to make difficult choices toward the end of the story. I thought it was great that this novel—which I at first expected to be only about Evie—developed into a crime story among the adults that Evie observes, is affected by, and ultimately must become involved in. Finally, I always love to find YA novels with adult characters (especially parents) that are as developed, complex, and flawed as the protagonist—and this is definitely the case in WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED.

I highly recommend this novel, which won the 2008 National Book Award.

You can check out Judy Blundell’s website here: The site is as perfect for WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED as the book’s cover!