What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
Even without reading the jacket copy or paying much attention to the title, you’d know within a few pages of starting Judy Blundell’s National Book Award-winning What I Saw and How I Lied that something bad is going to happen. Blundell doesn’t back down from that threat/promise, and the book lingers in your memory longer because of it.
This book has been reviewed all over the blogosphere, so I’ll keep my comments brief. (I especially like Colleen’s take on it at Bookslut, particularly because she also includes Mal Peet’s Tamar in her column, and I kept on thinking of Tamar as I read this book. Not so much because Tamar largely takes place in WWII and the war is a vital part of What I Saw…, but more in how both authors basically start off their books ominously and don’t let up on the tension. Unlike Colleen, though, I found it almost unbearable to keep reading Tamar, not wanting to know what devastating event would occur during the war, in a things-are-bad-enough-in-war-and-now-something-extra-bad-is-going-to-happen-too? kind of way. I didn’t have the same desire to not know what was going to happen with What I Saw…, and I’ll explain why later.)
It’s 1947, and Evie’s stepfather, Joe, has returned from Europe, where he served in the armed forces during World War II. He takes Evie and her mother on a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, where Evie meets Peter, who is young and rich and movie-star handsome, and Evie quickly develops a crush on him. But to Joe, Peter is a threat. We know from the first chapter that something happens to Peter; what follows is Evie’s attempt to understand why things happened the way they did.
My thoughts on What I Saw and How I Lied are mostly positive with one big reservation. I liked it, I think the writing is above average, and 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.
What bothered me, though I’m not whether it’ll affect other readers, including teens, were Blundell’s use of foreshadowing and how “Blundell hinted to readers at what was coming always just a bit before Evie began to piece things together,” as Shelf Elf puts it (positively, so I think I’m in the minority regarding this). But I found the clues too deliberately obvious, especially in a first person narration—if it’s worth having the the narrator comment on *with the benefit of hindsight* shouldn’t it be of more obvious importance in the narrator’s retelling of events? That, or make the hints more subtle—and I thought the tension and suspense were lessened as a result. Because of this, I actually I enjoyed reading What I Saw… more than Tamar—I was less nervous about what would happen because the events that later occurred were…not predictable, exactly, but unsurprising—but I also don’t think it is as good a book as Tamar because of the overtness of the hints. Still, What I Saw and How I Lied is a fine read on it’s own, worth checking out even if it hadn’t won the NBA for Young People’s Literature, and if you’re looking for a novel rich in atmosphere, it’d be hard to find something better than this.
~~ Sigh. My comments weren’t so short, after all. ~~