Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What I Was” as Want to Read:
What I Was
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What I Was

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  3,836 ratings  ·  498 reviews
Rising star Meg Rosoff delivers a piercing and magical story about friendship and humanity.

In the not too distant future, a one-hundred-year-old man called H sails the eastern coast of England with his godson. H recalls when he himself was sixteen —his godson'’s age— as they search for the site of H’'s life-altering friendship with a boy named Finn. Finn lives alone on an

Paperback, 198 pages
Published May 14th 2008 by Penguin (first published August 30th 2007)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What I Was, please sign up.
Recent Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.49  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,836 ratings  ·  498 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think I'm losing faith in Meg Rosoff.

I LOVED How I Live Now, so much so that I even consider it one of my favourite books of all time, and when Just In Case came out, I snapped it up immediately. It too was a bit of a let down. This novel was well-written and immersive but ultimately I didn't come away from the book feeling like I'd been changed or learned something significant having read it. As a matter of fact, it didn't even feel like Rosoff was trying to tell me anything at all.

I figured
Apr 02, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, glbt, overrated
“And still the brain continues to yearn, continues to burn, foolishly, with desire. My old man's brain is mocked by a body that still longs to stretch in the sun and form a beautiful shape in someone else's gaze, to lie under a blue sky and dream of helpless, selfless love, to behold itself, illuminated, in the golden light of another's eyes.”

Wow this was bad.
Meg Rosoff's wrting style is absolutely beautiful, hence it still deserves one star. Still, it was so hard to read and I dragged myself t
Jul 24, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: z2015, ya
This book was quite boring. Reading this book felt like a waste of my time, I'm just glad that it was only 200 pages so it didn't waste too much of my time. There was no message and this book didn't impact me at all. There wasn't even a good story. There was no real plot and that bugged me.

The characters were lacking. Apart from the two main characters, H & Finn, no other character was really brought to life. They were vague one-dimensional fillers to H's life. H himself was okay. I didn't
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: children-ya
I miss books like this. It’s been so long since I’ve come across one. What I Was found me today at Chapters. I can’t even tell you where. Was it on a table (20 books to read before you’re 20? Maybe New & Hot Teen Fiction?), or maybe just there on the shelf. I have no idea now. But anyway. I picked it up and read the back and got chills up my spine. This was a book I had to read, even if it tore my guts out (which it did, mostly).

What I Was is the story of H. 16 years old and shuffled off to
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
My favorite Meg Rosoff book so far. How I Live Now was good, but I was stunned by this one. From the dust jacket annotation I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to buy the plot, but once I started the story I found it perfectly plausible. The twist ending is something I hadn't seen coming, which is unusual -- usually I guess surprise endings ahead of time, which is kind of a drag. Best of all is the atmosphere of the story. From Rosoff's descriptions I could practically see the North Sea fog ...more
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction
I don't know what to rate this book... I don't know what to make of it. I would prefer to give it a 3.5 but since halvsies aren't allowed I rounded up. This book immediately drew me in and I could not put it down (would spellbinding be too strong?). I was absolutey captivated, and Rosoff threw in a unexpected twist totally throwing my predictions out the window (and I was happy to do so). But I don't know if I had closure... I just don't know.
Kaethe Douglas
Jan 22, 2009 marked it as stricken  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: samples
Dear Meg, next time you find yourself thinking "There are not too few books for marginalised young people," take a moment and think again. And again. And again. Keep thinking until you realize that there are never enough books. In the meantime, do not write anything else. Thank you.

Nov 10, 2017 marked it as not-for-me  ·  review of another edition
As of right now this is a DNF. It will be unrated because there's honestly nothing wrong with it. I personally found the plot just too slow, the writing just a little too slow, and myself uncaring about the main character and the story he was telling me. I am slightly interested in what the book is actually about (as there was no hint of it by page 50) so I may skim, but I don't think I have the inclination to actually read it.
Aug 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, YA
Shelves: read-in-2009
Review published here:

Meg Rosoff's novel What I Was will early on remind readers of John Knowles's classic coming of age tale, A Separate Peace. Both books feature an adult narrator reminiscing about his time as a 16-year-old in a boarding school and the dark events that changed his life forever. Though the similarities are undeniable, Rosoff manages to give her story a unique touch that will haunt the reader long after the final page.

Rosoff gives a nod t
Ruby Granger
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bullying, ya
A charming exploration of gender and sexuality which is made particularly striking in the fact that it is set in the 1960s. Additionally, there is an emphasis on 'simple living' and the recognition that material luxuries are not essential for living a happy and fulfilled life.
It is set in a Boy's Boarding School so there are elements of bullying. The protagonist is sixteen but he seems a lot younger when you're reading.
It is definitely a quick read but you will not regret it.
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an intriguing little book.

I knew from experience that Meg Rosoff doesn’t pen your “average” young adult fiction; indeed, How I Live Now was one of the more offbeat, compelling and disturbing YA books I’ve ever read. I finished it almost four years ago, yet I can recall certain passages and turns of phrase all these books later.

In the vein of the colorful, unusual and incredibly well-written is this slim novel: What I Was. The tale of H, our relatively unnamed narrator, and his long-ago frie
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt, female-author
I read this when it first came out and absolutely loved it, so when I had the opportunity to re-read it I took it for two reasons: 1. to see if I still loved it and 2. to see if I could figure this book out.

Number 1. is still correct. I absolutely loved this book, reading it for I think the third or fourth time? But about six years since I last read it. The characters, the writing, the setting, I love all of it. Once again, I was completely sucked in, with no choice but to let Meg Rosoff take me
Juliana Graham
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
This was a strange book and very different from How I Live Now by the same author which I really enjoyed. It tells the story of a teenage boy at boarding school and the relationship he forms with the enigmatic Finn who lives near the sea. Even though the book is beautifully written, not very much really happens and I found the twist downright confusing! How was it possible for the nameless lead character to spend so much time with Finn and not guess their secret? The twist also changed the entir ...more
Paula DeBoard
I've seen mixed reviews on this one, but I liked it. The story wasn't especially complicated --and the book was very brief -- but it was nonetheless compelling. It might have been subtitled: How does one go from being a shiftless, entitled ass to a decent human being who can empathize with another's pain? A worthy read for grappling with that question alone.
This is a lovely book. “H”, the narrator, is an old man looking back, telling the story of his youth and first love. Beautifully written – even poetic – it takes you on a journey to a place you can clearly picture in your mind. (Of course, I once lived in East Anglia so maybe that helped!) The setting is wonderfully evoked including the all-boys boarding school where H lives, & the cottage by the sea where his friend Finn lives. This is one of those books that will make you think about simpl ...more
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This book was absolutely phenomenal. I brought it on a camping trip because it was relatively small (and therefore easy to carry) and I bought it for $5 so I wasn't particularly worried about it. I had a day to relax, and I started the book.
I had started it once before, but it didn't grab me in the first few pages and, at the time, I didn't have the free time to focus on it. I set it aside, which I now realize was a mistake.
I finished the book in less than 6 hours. I devour books usually, but th
Shonna Froebel
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've always enjoyed everything I've read by Rosoff, and this was no exception. This book has an elderly man looking back at the year he was sixteen. The year was 1962 and he was in his third boarding school, having been kicked out of the previous two. He has no real ambition and tries to keep to himself and do as little as possible, that is until he meets another young man, who lives alone in a hut on the beach. When he meets Finn, he finds himself drawn to the life Finn lives, simple, doing wha ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Honestly, I spent more than half this book wishing it wouldn't end in the way it ended. But there was something overally beautiful and touching that I can't really put my finger on. So I give this book five stars for it's heartwarming, realistic story and more so for the feeling it gives you.
What I was follows our nameless hero's life in his 3rd boarding school where he has to cope with the school 'rules' and his disgusting perverse roommates. A chance meeting with a boy living alone on the beac
Apr 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alltimefavorite
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not as brilliant as "How I Live Now," (really, what can be?), but still a thoroughly good read. I really enjoy Ms. Rosoff's way with words, she is really skilled at describing a scene and various characters' reactions to it without spelling it all out for you. Perhaps because I have always been partial to stories of children & teens surviving out in the wilderness on their own with no adults (i.e., My Side of the Mountain, Julie of Wolves, The Boxcar Children, etc, etc), I really enjoyed her ...more
Dawn CM
Sep 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so incredibly beautiful to begin with. The first half left me speechless - the writing, the characters, the setting, the relationship... achingly beautiful to read. The last half was not nearly as satisfying, and the end was not at all. And yet, four stars for such a brilliant start that I thought this one would end up on my forever shelf for sure. I won't soon forget the relationship between the two boys in this story.
Dec 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya, adult
What can I say? I love Meg Rosoff! A wonderfully and beautifully told story with a shocking twist that begs to be read in book clubs! In terms of YA appeal, I think the story is best suited for older teens... high school and college aged's a coming of age story which many teens may relate to, but there are complex themes that are better suited for sophisticated readers....
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beguiling book, with strange and mysterious undertones. Beginning with the life of a school boy at St Oswald's school, who feels isolated from the other boys and though an intelligent lad finds it difficult to fit in at the school or at home, both proving to be hostile environments.

Then he meets Finn, who manages to survive alone in a primitive hut, very self sufficient, a handsome person with whom our hero swiftly falls in love. This love story is the main focus of the novel, the way that our
(Original review posted on my livejournal account:

Why I Read It: I read Rosoff's award-winning How I Live Now a few years ago and while I didn't fall head-over--heels in love with it, I still LIKED it and have been curious to check out her other works. This went on sale at work for $2 for the hardcover (!!!) AND I get 30% off on top of that so I couldn't resist picking this title up. It's languished in my TBR for too long, so I finally picked up and gave
Feb 20, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this book before Christmas and I just can't seem to finish it. I fell in love with Rosoff's writing with How I Live Now - what an amazing book that was - but this novel is missing something.

*EDIT* I don't know what happened, but yesterday I just felt like I couldn't abandon this book and I finished it. I'm glad I did. The second half of the book picks up and slides back into Rosoff's comfortable prose. She just has a way of creating a magic bubble around her characters so for
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I definitely recognized this as having been by the author of How I Live Now. The title, something about the tone, the writing style, maybe even the set-in-the-future-but-not-really-ness of it. And, like HILN, What I Was could just as easily be YA as adult fiction. (The library shelves this one with the adults’.)

I thought it was really good, if not as unexpectedly excellent as HILN. The last pages sort of spun out, and left me a bit confused and disappointed. To be fair, I’ve never liked epilogue
I got to the end of the second disc and just could not get myself to move on. The language seemed excessively wordy and even though she excessively uses language to try and describe the surroundings and characters, I was not able to fully picture them. I cared less about the characters and their relationship. The story was bland and uneventful and I really could not decipher what the point of the story was.
It had a similar flow to How I Live Now, but the voice was not as interesting.
I usually
Jun 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this a very enjoyable read. Rosoff writes beautifully, and I was pulled in to find out how it would all turn out, but was ultimately left unsatisfied. I don't need a novel to end with all the loose ends tied up, but this story somehow just missed the mark for me. Her descriptions were lovely, and I felt that she was able to get into the head of the 16 year-old boy at the center of this book, especially his unrequited longing for his friend on the beach, but the outcome of their relations ...more
Aug 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I found this book both disappointing and entertaining. It grabbed my attention immediately and I didn't stop reading it because their friendship was interesting to the point that I couldn't put the book down, but I felt that the ending was a bit off. Shocking to realize Finn was a girl and I just really hoped that his flu went away over the course of a couple of weeks and then Finn and H would just live together peacefully in the fishing shack. I was also quite surprised when I read
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Naked
  • Solace of the Road
  • The Knife That Killed Me
  • Everything Beautiful
  • All Fall Down
  • Jasmine Skies
  • Brown Skin Blue
  • Being Billy
  • The Earth Hums in B Flat
  • Butterfly
  • Finlater
  • Rowan the Strange (Ivy, #3)
  • Losing it
  • Clancy of the Undertow
  • We Can Be Heroes
  • The Ant Colony
  • Almost True (When I Was Joe, #2)
  • Kapitulera omedelbart eller dö
See similar books…
Meg Rosoff was born in Boston and had three or four careers in publishing and advertising before she moved to London in 1989, where she lives now with her husband and daughter. Formerly a Young Adult author, Meg has earned numerous prizes including the highest American and British honors for YA fiction: the Michael L. Printz Award and the Carnegie Medal.
“I am almost a hundred years old; waiting for the end, and thinking about the beginning.

There are things I need to tell you, but would you listen if I told you how quickly time passes?

I know you are unable to imagine this.

Nevertheless, I can tell you that you will awake someday to find that your life has rushed by at a speed at once impossible and cruel. The most intense moments will seem to have occurred only yesterday and nothing will have erased the pain and pleasure, the impossible intensity of love and its dog-leaping happiness, the bleak blackness of passions unrequited, or unexpressed, or unresolved.”
“And still the brain continues to yearn, continues to burn, foolishly, with desire. My old man's brain is mocked by a body that still longs to stretch in the sun and form a beautiful shape in someone else's gaze, to lie under a blue sky and dream of helpless, selfless love, to behold itself, illuminated, in the golden light of another's eyes.” 50 likes
More quotes…