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Judy Blundell's novel about a young girl's journey to self-discovery, love, and learning about being an adult and how to deal with her family is poignant and rich in hard life lessons that's enveloped in a believeable post-WWII world. Her main character, Evie Spooner is likeable but far from perfect, making her very, very relatable. For the crushing, moving lessons it felivers, Blundell manages to keep the tone from becoming too dark, too forbidding, or even too depressing, despite the weighty issues she explores.
I read this novel for a class discussion and was impressed. Neither I nor my classmates had heard of it before, which is odd considering the high accolade is bears on its front cover.
I would consider this a great read for the tween-to-YA age-group, though for the younger readers I would suggest the parent give it a go first, as it does deal with issues of sexuality, among other serious issues (no spoilers, no spoilers!).
Reading this novel felt like a trip back in time, honestly, as the novel is written so perfectly in that tone of YA novels from decades past. If your young reader dislikes Twilight-style narrative, this might be more up his or her alley. On that note, I'm a 27 year old and I enjoyed the novel; it was a quick read (two sittings for me) but very satisfying in a way that few books these days seem to be. I couldn't put it down, despite picking it up almost as a chore for my class. While I recommend it highly, it's not something I can see myself coming back to again and again, thus only 4/5 stars from myself.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 29 December 2009
Set in the US just after WWII, this book is narrated by 15yr old Evie Spooner. She is the only child of devastatingly beautiful Beverley Spooner and a loving stepfather, Joe. Joe has a chain of appliance stores, reaping the new-found wealth of Americans after the war, however, it seems there are question marks over how he raised the money for them. Unexpectedly he takes Evie and her mother on a holiday to Florida, a four day drive from their home in Queens. This is an opportunity for Evie to blossom, to experience first love - but all is not as it seems. The young GI, Peter Coleridge, who sweeps Evie off her feet, is formerly from Joe's platoon. He seems to know a lot more about Joe than Joe is happy with. Everything comes to a head as a furious typhoon sweeps the coast, reaping chaos and mayhem over the whole area and irrevocably changing Evie's life.
All the characters are beautifully drawn, Evie, a teenager desperate to make the jump into adulthood but in many ways very naive, her mother, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, the salesman step-father, plus several other guests at the hotel. Unfortunately I didn't feel the court case presented a true test of Evie's allegiancies, though I'd spoil the plot if I explained why. Definitely a good read but not quite 5 stars.
The cover is striking - a flyleaf depicting a young Evie from the 40's and an inner cover showing her beautiful mother - a woman of her time.
4.0 out of 5 starsGood thriller for ages 13 and up,
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 7 March 2011
Teenaged Evie longs to be grown-up and glamorous, like her bombshell mom, but she gets more than she bargained for when her stepfather whisks the family away to Palm Beach and she falls in love with a charming "older man." Peter is 23, wealthy, and seems to be fighting his feelings for her. He also seems to be fighting with her stepfather. Peter claims Evie's stepfather cheated him in an end-of-WWII business deal (not a very nice or ethical deal -- it involved stealing & selling valuables confiscated from the Jews during the war), and the tension between the two men eventually comes to a head, leaving one of them dead and Evie in an unthinkable position.
I liked this book a lot. The writing, though not overly detailed, still paints a colorful picture of post-war life, lingo, and style. The plot makes its twists and turns, and though the reader can see where things are going, young, naive Evie cannot. When she finally understands "what she saw," and takes a second look at all the things she'd misinterpreted, her astonishment is palpable to the reader.
As for "how Evie lied," I don't want to give away too much, because this book is absolutely worth reading, but I liked Evie's innocence and upstanding forthrightness and was disappointed when she lied. I realize that this is a coming-of-age story, and the whole point is, Evie _loses_ her innocence. Boy does she ever -- I found her transformation from the simple world of childhood to the complicated, compromised world of adulthood heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking when it happens to any of us (though it doesn't happen to many of us in the exact way it happens to Evie -- most of us don't end up testifying in a criminal trial!), but happen it must. I guess my unwillingness to accept Evie lying is a testament to how realistically her character was drawn; I liked innocent Evie and was sad to see her grow up.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 16 November 2009
It's 1947 and 15-year-old Evie lives with her glamorous mother, step-father Joe and grandmother in Queens. When an old war buddy calls the house looking for Joe, he decides to take Evie and her mother for a holiday in Palm Beach, Florida where they meet New York hoteliers, the Graysons and Peter Callaghan, a former private in Joe's army unit.
Tired of being treated as a child, Evie is drawn to the handsome Peter and despite her mother's insistence on chaperoning her, takes every opportunity available to spend time with him. However even as Evie finds herself falling in love, she notices the strange hold that Peter seems to have over her parents and more disturbingly how the war has not changed the way in which Jews are treated. When a tragedy strikes, Evie is forced to decide between betraying her family or betraying Peter and in the process, grow up faster than she ever thought possible.
Written in a noir style, Blundell succeeds in recreating the feel of post-War America through the authentic feel of Evie's first person voice although the references to the cinema of the time feels a little forced. Strangely, Evie's love of noir cinema (citing Mildred Pierce amongst others) makes it difficult to believe that she's so slow in realising the truth of what is going on around her, particularly when it's so obvious early on. More successful is the way in which she slowly comes to realise the anti-Semitism that is rife in post-War America - a scene involving the expulsion of the Graysons from their hotel is particularly effective. The book really comes alive though in its final third and the tension of the courtroom scenes really serves to heighten Evie's dilemma and makes her final choice all the more poignant.
Joe's back story is well told and it's interesting to see a non-traditional take on the actions of the US during World War II. Evie's mother is an interesting character - held back by her good looks and glamorous personality and desperate to ensure that Evie doesn't repeat her mistakes and Evie's frustration at this really comes through.
All-in-all it's a satisfying read with a sophisticated plot and definitely worth a look.
4.0 out of 5 starsA coming of age historical murder mystery
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 11 March 2010
There's a strong hint of old fashioned 1940s film noir about Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied - the femme fatale figure of Evie's mother, in combination with the mysterious disappearance of a young man with dark secrets about her family, makes for a potent and heady cocktail in the oppressive environment of the Florida winter, where storms seem to ravage the area, and not just weather-wise. Under this cloud of impending doom, 15 year old Evie grows to be a young woman, craving the picture perfect, glamorous lifestyle her mother enjoys. However, this coming of age has a sting in its tail - in achieving maturity, Evie is forced to confront the darker side of human nature, as well as find out the extremes she will go to to protect those she loves, even if that means sacrificing someone else she cares about.
I don't read a lot of books set in this time period, but the imagery and setting that Blundell evokes is completely captivating. It feels like watching a classic Double Indemnity type movie play out in front of you, with the 'polka dots and moonbeams' world of adulthood that Evie idealises, and the twisted side of that world, captured wonderfully, not least in the striking cover art. And by transporting the reader to that environment, we are transported into Evie's story. Although the plot can be a little slow in places, it is truly gripping due to the voice that Blundell gives to Evie, adding depth in its simplicity and well drawn small cast of characters, and meant that whilst I spotted how the book would end a few pages before, I didn't want it to end.
This is a novel that's wasted on being marketed at the young adult readers. That isn't to say they won't enjoy it - they will - but if you've been overlooking this book because you think it's just for teenagers, think again.
Evie is on the cusp of adulthood, but it's not coming quick enough for her. Like all young girls, she dreams of falling in love for the first time, and being allowed to wear makeup and high heels. When Evie's stepfather suddenly takes the family for a holiday in Florida, she is thrilled, but this is the first step towards tragedy that will cause her to grow up much more quickly than she wants too. The story is set just after the war when America was a prosperous country, and everyone had money to spend. Evie's stepfather was no different, and had set up some hardware stores, but where did he get the money from? A mysterious phone call prompts their flight from New York to Florida, but trouble follows them down there.
This is a great story, which I really enjoyed, and after I got to a certain point, I just couldn't put it down. Evie is a character that you can really warm to, and the author makes you sympathise with her as things start to go wrong. She tries so hard to be grown up, but she doesn't understand the rules of the game, and gets her fingers burnt. The story is set in the USA just after the second world war, and is filled with evocative sights and sounds of the era. The author says that this is a period that she is fascinated with, and this comes through in her writing. A very good read!
4.0 out of 5 starsWould YOU lie to save someone else?
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 13 November 2009
The Second World War has just ended, and fifteen-year-old Evie's stepfather is finally back home. Something has changed and he certainly doesn't seem like his old self, but that could be because of the terrible things he's experienced during the war. Soon it becomes apparent something strange is going on when Evie's interfering grandmother keeps taking calls from someone asking for her stepfather, and when the three of them suddenly take off to Palm Beach in Florida for what seems like an adventure to get away from it all, a handsome stranger turns up.
Peter Coleridge is a gorgeous ex-GI and Evie soon finds herself falling for him. But it's not long before more secrets emerge and poor Evie's world gets much darker as three people hire a boat during a hurricane, and only two come back, leading Evie into a court of law and about to make the biggest decision of her life.
For what is essentially a young adult coming-of-age romance, the combination of the 1940's themed setting, the usage of appropriate words for that period, and the realistic and quite moving suspenseful plot shrouded by tragedy, certainly surprised me! What happened to Evie, and her struggles to be seen as a young adult and not the child everyone has grown used to, is to me something that teen girls would surely relate to, but it's only part of what makes this book stand out. Other themes include anti-Semitism during post-war America and the terrible treatment of the Jews. These were not conveyed as lectures, or as chunks where the author shows off her research knowledge, but were subtly woven into the story as things that shocked young Evie when she first understood what was going on in the true style of her character. A great way to educate teenage readers without boring them, and the perfect excuse to pack more into the plot.
I found Blundell's style of writing descriptive and engaging. The fun and naivety of Evie's voice at the beginning slowly disappears, and as the unfortunate events unfold she conveys the sense of panic and confusion that a young girl in her position would feel; a marvellous way to set the tone for the book's intriguing ending.
Incidentally, Judy Blundell is not new to the publishing world. For younger readers she has written under the psuedonym Jude Watson
Star Wars Episode I Journal Queen Amidala
, which if you are a Star Wars fan, like I am, you'll already know this. Other books under her belt include the New York Times bestselling series,
39 Clues 6: In Too Deep (The 39 Clues)
, written for teenagers. I'm no teenager, but I'd still love to review this!
Finally, the book cover of "What I Saw and How I Lied" is amazing. It has dust jacket, which when removed reveals two colour covers. Even if I had disliked this book, I would have insisted on at least giving three stars and a pint of beer to the book designer.
4.0 out of 5 starsAdolescent Story in an Adult world
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 19 September 2009
Set mainly in Florida and written by American Judy Blundell, What I saw and How I Lied won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2008. Classed as a novel for young adults, there are certainly elements of the story which would appeal to teenagers, particularly girls. These include the descriptions of the emotions experienced by the narrator, Evie, in circumstances such as her adolescent crush on the handsome ex-GI Peter, her move to another State leaving her friend behind, her insecurity about her own attractiveness and her typical teenage views of her mother and stepfather.
However, the book has equal appeal to adults in the underlying mystery surrounding both Evie's family and the other characters they encounter and as the story progresses, the circumstances experienced by Evie become more daunting and stressful than those more familiar to the average teenager. I found the second half of the novel more intriguing as various aspects of the plot become intriguingly intertwined and the reason for the title becomes more obvious, yet always with an element of doubt cast over it.
For those interested in the post war era, there are plenty of references to events and people of the day, but I am no expert in this area, so cannot comment on the historical accuracy or otherwise of those snippets of information.
It took me a while to get used to the American writing style and some of the language and grammar, but once I got past the first half a dozen chapters, it was harder to put the book down without wondering what was going to happen or be revealed next. This was especially the case because the author frequently ends a chapter with a telling comment, which actually tells you nothing unless you read on. Examples are `It didn't feel like anyone was chasing us. Not at all' or `This may only be a dream....'
One of those books which presents a moral dilemma and leaves you wondering - both clever and intriguing.