Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2008. It was always on my radar, but I finally got to it last week. What I Saw and How I Lied is top-notch historical fiction with a noir slant. The story opens with narrator Evie in a Florida hotel room with her mother, the pair ostracized after some unnamed tragedy. Evie then goes back to tell the story from the beginning, leaving the reader aware the whole time that things are not going to go well.
What I Saw and How I Lied is set in 1947, when "the war was over (and) everyone wanted a new car." Most of the story takes place in off-season Palm Beach. Blundell's sense of time and place is palpable. There are details anchoring the book on practically every page, from "In the basket I had a bottle of cream soda and two Baby Ruths" (page 2) to "Afterward we stopped at a filling station for icy cold Cokes. They had two water fountains, one for Whites and one for Coloreds" (Page 116). The very fonts of the chapter headings evoke the post-WWII era.
Blundell's descriptions, in addition to capturing the historical details, are full of sounds and smells and textures. Here's an example:
"I breathed in and out, perfume and smoke, perfume and smoke, and we lay like that for a long time, until I heard the seagulls crying, sadder than a funeral, and I knew it was almost morning." (Page 2)
What I Saw and How I Lied is a window into a time and place, a window that smells and sounds can filter right through. It's also a mystery/suspense novel, one likely to intrigue readers of all ages. Evie has a handsome young love interest, a charming stepfather, and a "knockout" mother. Readers will see elements of the tragedy coming long before Evie does - but Evie's innocence is part of the book's charm.
At its heart, What I Saw and How I Lied is a coming of age story. Evie grows from sheltered schoolgirl to adulthood in less than 300 pages. Here's some foreshadowing:
"Just one dance. Just one. That's all I wanted.
I know now how you can take one step and you can't stop yourself from taking another. I know now what it means to want. I know it can get you to a place where there's no way out. I know now that there's no such thing as just one. But I didn't know it then." (Page 42)
Evie is a strong character - she feels real from the first page. The adult characters are a bit less clear, but this is because Evie takes quite a while to see them clearly herself.
What I Saw and How I Lied is beautifully written, and likely to appeal to teens and adults. Just tell kids who don't like historical fiction that it's a mystery/suspense novel, and vice versa. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: 2008 (hardcover edition)
Source of Book: Bought it
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).