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What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

April 6, 2009

cover of What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy BlundellEven 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. ~~

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2009 6:09 pm

    I really like the noir feel of this one. I felt like I was watching some film from the ’40s. Great review!!

  2. April 6, 2009 6:30 pm

    Interesting point about the foreshadowing. I knew that I didn’t love it (I did enjoy it) but I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. It’s been too long now to know if that might have been one of the issues that kept me from loving it, but good stuff to think about!

  3. April 7, 2009 3:07 am

    I love the cover on this – so atmospheric – and am definitely intrigued by the varying reviews I’ve seen on it. Hmm.

    • April 7, 2009 7:57 pm

      If you want mystery/suspense that keeps you guessing, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for atmosphere and an awesome sense of place and time, read it.

  4. April 7, 2009 4:53 pm

    Hey there! I wanted to let you know I’ve given you a Proximidade Award over on my site. I always enjoy your reviews.

  5. April 7, 2009 11:47 pm

    I learn so much from reviewers who present their reservations respectfully. Thank you for this.

  6. April 9, 2009 2:44 pm

    this may be something i would be interested in
    reading? one of my GW editors was asking about this
    book. i’ll ask what she thought about it as well.

    thanks for the thoughtful review, as always, trisha!

  7. haley permalink
    May 14, 2009 5:03 pm

    amazing book i loved it i read it like 20 times my favorite book so far!:):):):)

  8. tracy permalink
    July 18, 2011 7:47 am

    i think they should make a movie on the book.


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