Larissa's Reviews > What I Saw and How I Lied

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
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's review
Jun 30, 10

bookshelves: usa, 2010, audio, young-adult, spontaneous-reads
Read in June, 2010

This book had been on my radar for quite some time, so I was really happy to have the opportunity to listen to the audiobook while commuting to and from the wilds of Long Island for a library class last week. And I can say pretty definitively that this book was one of the only highlights of an otherwise disappointing experience.

What I Saw and How I Lied takes place in the wake of World War II, when a few years of renewed bounty have many former soldiers vigorously chasing after the American Dream, and most of America is trying to forget things done (and left undone) during the war. For Evie Spooner, who has grown up something of a sheltered and unassertive wallflower in Queens, life during the war meant living under the thumb of her contentious step-grandmother, while her bombshell mother worked full time to support the family selling ties in a menswear boutique. When her stepfather Joe returned unscathed, the family settled into a familiar routine of pre-dinner cocktails, sugar in their coffee, and pot roasts. On the strength of a few loans for servicemen, Joe was even able to start a couple of his own appliance businesses, and things are going well. Or that's how it seems to Evie, at least.

As the summer comes to an end and Evie is preparing to go to high school, Joe unexpectedly takes the family to Palm Beach for a few weeks of vacation. Right from the start, things go badly. The weather is sweltering, the town is deserted in the off-season, and the family finds themselves unexpectedly thrown together with a swanky couple named Grayson from Manhattan and a soldier named Peter from Joe's past. As the weather gets hotter and hurricanes threaten the Florida coast, however, things get much more complicated. Joe and Mr. Grayson begin working on a business deal, and her mother and she spend more and more time with Peter, who Joe unaccountably hates. All the while, Evie is falling head over heels in love with Peter, learning to walk in high heels, and discovering that all of the adults around her have secrets that they are trying to protect her from.

What I Saw and How I Lied (a delicious title if ever I heard one), is basically a classic bildungsroman. In the hands of Blundell, however, what could be a rather simple story becomes wonderfully nuanced, historically evocative, bittersweet, and tense. Since so much of what goes on around Evie escapes her understanding, the reader spends much of the book expecting a disaster that she never sees coming. Evie is something of an unreliable narrator, though certainly not because of any ulterior motive. It's simply a matter of limited perspective. Her transformation from innocent to worldly cynic, from a bystander to an assertive actor, is truly well done. Her inability to recognize the subtext around her, her desperate need to feel grown up without understanding what disappointments that transition will entail, and the stubbornness with which she falls in love--it's all tragic and sweet and very true. And so the reader spends much of the book wishing that she would hurry up and figure out what's going on, while all the same hoping that she won't--because it will be so hurtful.

What I Saw and How I Lied is about love, trust, honesty, lies, sacrifices, family, and learning that no one is ever as good (or bad) as they seem. Highly, highly recommended for adults and teens alike.

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