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What I Did

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  384 ratings  ·  80 reviews
“This is family life today at its most believable: warm and messy, bored and raging….I LOVED IT.”
—Emma Donoghue, author of the New York Times bestseller Room
What I Did by Christopher Wakling is a truly astonishing novel—the chronicle of a family crisis that is equal parts hilarity, poignancy, and horror, told in the singular voice of a most precocious youngster.  Room mee
Paperback, 282 pages
Published July 17th 2012 by William Morrow (first published August 4th 2011)
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Sep 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The central storyline of What I Did could happen to any family. Imagine, you are out in the park with your six year old son. Both of you are in a bad mood - it's early, you have work worries, you'd rather be in bed. Suddenly your son runs off, over the park, through the trees and makes his way towards a busy road. You chase him, shouting for him to stop. You see him run out between parked cars, you see the traffic, your heart thuds. He's lucky, he stops, he's unhurt. You grab him - you smack him ...more
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ever wondered what a novel written by a 6-year old boy would read like? Well, wonder no more, as Wakling has successfully channeled the thoughts, confusions and wildlife obsessions of a slightly precocious elementary schooler, Billy. The question is, do you really want to spend 300 pages with a 6-year old boy? I discovered that I have the same impatience with the fictional character as I have with actual kids.

The premise of the novel is simple, and brilliant, because it could happen to virtually
David Hebblethwaite
Chris Wakling’s latest novel is narrated by six-year-old Billy Wright, who runs off one day while he’s out with his dad Jim. Eventually catching up with Billy as he runs out into a busy road, an exasperated Jim smacks the boy; a passing woman sees this, intervenes, and reports Jim to social services – and so the Wrights’ ordinary family life begins to unravel.

Billy’s narrative voice is a mixture of rambling, malapropisms, and references to the natural world (he loves watching David Attenborough
May 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
It could happen to almost anyone -- imagine your 6-year-old child running out suddenly into oncoming traffic, though you know he knows better. You're so distraught with fear that you spank him publicly -- an emotional response to an emotional situation. This is witnessed by a passerby, who reports it to social services. And thus begins a long string of out-of-control consequences, miscommunications, and family trauma. However, in this instance, the story is told through the eyes of the child him ...more
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, literary-fiction
Billy is six. Billy tells us this story from his point of view, and right off the bat we are told "nobody is bad or good here, or rather everyone is a bit bad and a bit good".
Billy is out with his father one day in the park. His father calls to him, but he is playing a game, so he starts to run off. The more his father tells him to stop, the faster he runs until he runs right into the street. Amidst honking horns and screeching brakes, his father gets angry and punishes Billy. A woman gets angr
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
I could not put this down..I was so desperate to see what would be the outcome of official intervention in this family after their child runs into the road and is subsequently smacked by his angry and incredibly scared father, an event witnessed by a passer-by and reported to the authorities.I watched sadly as innocent remarks made by the child unwittingly lead to a rapid chain of events, not helped by the father's disinclination to co-operate with the system .
I have ,unfortunately, some persona
Jul 03, 2012 rated it liked it
As a parent we all fear that moment our child runs out into traffic. Billy, the protaganist of this story is 6 years old and by running out into the street, he sets off a viscious cycle of consequences. Billy not understanding the situation, and being angry at his father for "telling on him", tells a social worker that his father "abuses him". This leads to involvement with social services and finally the father leaving the home. It is such a sad story of a small child miscommunicating what happ ...more
May 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"What I Did" chronicles an everyday family in an unanticipated crisis. Written from the viewpoint of six year Billy, we hear how connections are made and misunderstood. At times his musings become laborious and the plot needs to pick up speed, but perhaps that is where the genius of the story lays. Tangled amid the scattered thoughts is the truth that social services is trying to unravel but in the effort to protect the innocent, the entire family is threatened and brought to the brink of total ...more
Jonkers Jonkers
Aug 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Once I'd got over the way that the book is written (through the 6 year old boy in the book) I actually thought it was a good read. Quite thought-provoking and not going for the easy answers or making the characters 1 dimensional. ...more
Mona Bomgaars
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Chautauqua week 3 book and CLS longest thriving book club selected book for 2014! A very enjoyable read about a difficult social family problem through the thoughts of a 6 year old boy.
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
It’s my fault. I saw Emma Donoghue’s comments at the top of my copy of “What I Did” and I must have mentally prepared myself for this book to be as gripping and emotional as hers.

The problem? Young Jack, of “Room”, is far more likable than Billy of “What I Did”. And it really wasn’t their differing circumstances that made Jack so much more engaging…that made the reader care more about his fate than Billy’s.

Billy was just so much more…6. As young and as removed from real life as Jack was, Bil
Linda Manatt
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Uniquely told from the perspective of a 6 year old’s stream of consciousness, the story that enfolds is both tragic and humorous, full of charm, wit, and wisdom, with a father/son relationship I will not soon forget. I had trouble putting it down when life’s demands interfered and I continuously marveled at how insightfully the author expressed the thoughts and feelings of a 6 year old. I wish I’d had that sort of understanding of a child’s thinking when my kids were young!
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is told entirely from the perspective of a six year old boy. It was, at times, very frustrating to read, but certainly held my attention. I was disappointed with the ending. It was abrupt and could have been much more detailed.
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and honest book about how things can be misconstrued from the perspective of a 6 year old. Hold on to your hat as the narrator loses you, being able to pluck the important information from the rubbish makes this a larger challenge. The words the little boy uses incorrectly will give you a chuckle.
Apr 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: public-library
Billy Wright is publically spanked by his father after he runs out into the street. A passerby informs social services and a child protection officer pays a visit to investigate. Things escalate and the suspicion of child abuse soon threatens to break up the family.

The strength and the weakness of the novel are the narrator, six-year-old Billy. At times the perspective and voice of a child are successfully achieved. Billy’s childish logic actually makes some of his behaviour very believable. For
Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it
I'm going to get right to not so likable feature of the book. Let's get that reservation out of the way. I felt like this novel had a quirky sense of direction. As I was reading it I often got lost in what the message behind some of the stories was. I kept saying to myself 'huh?,' 'ok, now what's going on all of a sudden?' This will make sense to some readers, or it might not. What I mean to say by this is that the novel has a 'hit or miss' kind of feel. You'll either get it or you won't because ...more
While some people may have found this book charming, as it attempted to be written from a child's point of view, and the "kid logic" was sometimes reminiscent of how my children saw things when they were younger,there were times when it just came across as smarmy and uncaring - an adult trying to be a kid and not succeeding. I found that the tragedy that was stirred up by this book was too PC for me. We allow corporal punishment in Texas. It is okay to spank your kids. You do not get sent to jai ...more
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
A morning outing turns devastating for one boy and his family in What I Did. When Billy ran out into the street, his father was understandably concerned and angry. But a passerby witnessing Billy's stern correction soon calls family services on Billy's father. What comes next, though the eyes of Billy himself, is nothing less than heartbreaking as Billy's father and family come to terms with the consequences of that one almost tragic morning.

I have to say that I really struggled with this book.
Sep 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is about adults not understanding, and therefore misinterpreting, a small boy’s mind. More generally, it’s about communication, also between adults. The story is frustrating but oh-so believable. I was commenting all the way “Come on, listen more carefully to that boy! He isn’t saying that!”, or “Why did he (not) do that? That’s so stupid!”, or “Come on, people. Back off. You’re making a big thing out of a little one.” So, that was fun! I enjoy it when I have an opinion about the story ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was a GOOD READS FIRST READS WINNER OF THIS BOOK.I had many emotions reading this book. It is seen through the eyes of a six year old boy named Billy. he is a bright boy with one heck of an imagination. Billy is on an outing with his dad he runs right into heavy traffic scaring the daylights out of his dad. when he gets out of the street his frantic dad gives Billy a few swats on his rear end. A witness confronts the dad who is told to mind her own business. this is the start of an awful exper ...more
Jul 24, 2012 rated it liked it
I was nervous to read this book because I knew the basic plot. Some of the best books out there are a bit uncomfortable though (Room, The Lovely Bones come to mind). This book was uncomfortable and frustrating but it wasn't great. Having a 3year old son, I found it difficult to be in the mind of a 6 year old boy all the time. My real life was merging with my reading life- the constant talking and changing subjects! Billy is also so frustrating, you do just want to pick him up and shake him. The ...more
Apr 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Well, Wakling certainly captured the essence of a young boy. He just did it a little too well.

I was pretty excited about this book. I was expected a heart-wrenching story told by a confused little boy who is struggling to adapt to his new dark world. However, the boy was so confused and innocent that I ended up caring as little about the events as he did. I thought the boy would be indifferent to things that I would find horrifying, and I'd find it even worse because of his innocence. Instead, I
Jul 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well, I wrote one review and it disappear when I tried to post it.

This book reminded me a little of the book "Room" which is also narrated by a young boy; however, this boy lives in a reasonably normal household so the story is, of course, very different.

I was at times amused, annoyed, confused, and upset by the boy's outlook. I felt that his father was totally justified in the spanking because I'm very sure I would have done the same thing had my child run into a street and come that close to b
A father gets accused of child abuse after someone has seen him hit his six-year old son. That is the beginning of a nightmare for the Wright family. Social services come into action to question young Billy what happened but his answers are so ambiguous and evasive that they don't trust the situation. The entire novel is written from Billy's point of view, which works wonders because otherwise the book might have become far too heavy. With innocent and sweet Billy as main character Wakling gives ...more
Oct 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Normally I'm not a fan of children as characters, major or otherwise. But generally Billy managed to sound very realistic and not annoying. Which isn't the same thing as saying he didn't annoy everyone around him with the typical boundless energy of a 6 year old.

His thought pattern felt very real to me. He sounded like he was going a mile a minute and he'd often start on one topic before offering a random animal fact (he's absolutely obsessed with animals).

The whole story is about a simple mis
Apr 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
I chose this book because the subject matter is so often in the news these days; it is a serious issue and I had expected it to be dealt with in a more serious way, however the style of writing is what I have a problem with. The accompanying blurb does not mention that the story is seen through the eyes of a six-year old child, and I may not have chosen it had I known. Now I don't normally have a problem with that, having read, enjoyed and recently reviewed one or two books written from a child' ...more
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
What an enjoyable read! Billy narrates this entire book from his vantage point as a six-year-old. Billy is definitely a precocious child, and he is utterly obsessed with David Attenborough’s nature documentaries (but, really, who isn’t?? They are excellent!). The storyline itself is not the book’s best feature. Watching this family crumble around poor Billy is frustrating and sad, and not presented in a complicated way - after all everything the reader learns is filtered through a six-year-old’s ...more
Dec 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-read
This was a good book. Not a great book, but good in the sense there are far less entertaining books you could read. I read it for my monthly book club and the consensus was that while there was an intriguing story at the core, the style chosen to tell it got in the way. I found I was constantly questioning things: "Would a six year old really observe all this and use these words?". "Is any six year old this smart?". "Who is speaking now? An adult or the kid?" The author does not use quotation ma ...more
Stephanie Wolf
Jul 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comedy, relationship
Written through the eyes of a six year old boy, who is well educated and mannered. He know how to greet someone properly, but like a typical six year old, immediately changes his thoughts and may start talking about dinosaurs. Also typical to a six year old, not everything a child hears is what they think they hear, for example, a nuclear threat becomes a new clear threat.

What I Did is the story of what happens to Billy when he runs into the street and what happens to those around him, his famil
Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I actually really enjoyed this book. Being told from the point of view of a six year old was interesting. As i have a four year old little boy i was able to keep up with the change in topic midway through a thought process, and this just made it more realistic. It certainly made me think about i talk to my little boy and what other people may think about my mothering. It also showed how quickly things can be misconstrued and how the child services people took what the little boy said for the tru ...more
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Christopher George Wakling was born in 1970. He studied English at Oxford and has worked as a farm hand, teacher and lawyer. He has written four novels: Towards the Sun, The Undertow, Beneath the Diamond Sky and On Cape Three Points. The first three were literary thrillers, published under the name Christopher Wakling, but his latest book, Towards the Sun, isn’t thrilling at all, so he’s published ...more

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