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When I Was Five I Killed Myself

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  3,041 ratings  ·  250 reviews
Burton Rembrandt has the sort of perspective on life that is almost impossible for adults to understand: the perspective of an 8-year-old. And to Burt, his parents and teachers seem to be speaking a language he cannot understand. This is Burt's story as written in pencil on the walls of Quiet Room in the Children's Trust Residence Center, where he lands after expressing hi ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published July 1st 2001 by Washington Square Press (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  3,041 ratings  ·  250 reviews

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Jun 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Wow. Just.. wow. Flawlessly executed. Very few books alter the way I actually think; this one did. Also, I don't know if the author did this intentionally (I suspect he did) or if it was just my pre-existing prejucides and psychology background coming into play, but for a large part of the book I had a certain perception of the kid, the one that the adults in the book had, and then it gradually, and then abruptly, with a certain incident that had been hinted a lot, changed. And I felt guilty for ...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Burton Rembrandt is an intelligent and sensitive eight-year-old boy who excels at spelling. But he has been sent to The Children's Trust Residence Center for autistic, sociopathic and generally "disturbed" children after expressing his love for his friend, Jessica, in a way that has horrified his parents and her mother. Forbidden to see his parents and not allowed to read the letters from Jessica, Burt spends most of his time in the Quiet Room, writing his story on the walls. Only a young doctor ...more
Sep 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
young people can be terribly harmed 'for their own good,' by the arrogant assumption on the part of adults that our experienced, scientific and 'rational' point of view is infallible. Shelley's Frankenstein advised us to quit trying to play God, but we're still doing it, especially to our kids, who can't do anything to fight back. i survived years of unwarranted psychomeddling in my childhood when it was in fact my mother who needed counseling and medication, and this book captures exactly the ...more
Isabel Odriozola
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very effective narration style: one is left with the distinct impression that one has read an account written by an actual eight-year-old - from the misinterpreted meanings of words to the clumsy sentence structure and writing style..
I read this all in one day, I could barely put it down. It's not the most gripping or thrilling book I have ever read, but it is deeply intriguing. I felt as though I was put in the position of a psychologist, analyzing the behaviour of a seemingly 'disturbed' child
Dec 05, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: ya
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Deirdre Sugiuchi
Aug 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
I heard such great things about this book but the casual racism ruined it. Yes, I understand the author was writing in 1980. So was James Baldwin.
May 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: age-over-10
This is a fantastic book! Written convincingly from the perspective of linguistically-intelligent eight year old (Burt), this is a very disturbing account. There are elements of this book (Burt's character, in particular) which are left open to the reader's interpretation. This means that there is a lot to think about once you have finished reading.

This book is not suitable for everyone as it is implicitly alarming towards the end. However, I found the elements relating to the children's "Home"
Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who obsessively reads Salinger
Branch out a little. This one's known as The Catcher of the Rye of France, because, though the author is American, AMERICA REFUSED TO PUBLISH IT (until recently). It is awesoome. It made me laugh and cry outloud. The author is a clown who works with autistic kids. He can also write. ...more
Jun 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Engrossing and re-readable, while expressing some great stuff about what it is to be a child. What more can you ask for?
Jul 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Bizarre. Not exactly what I expected.
Jun 22, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like The Catcher in the Rye, but with an 8-year-old protagonist. And not nearly as good. But a quick, enjoyable read, regardless.
Kathy Zilkha
Mar 26, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a strange book.
Jingle ❀彡
I am so, so confused as to what I've just read. I think it's good, but it's so disturbing and confusing that I'm still trying to get my head around it all. ...more
Feb 03, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
i stopped about chapter seven. I wanted to know more about what happened to Jessica but couldn't get into it. sadly, the second book i've read this year that didn't live up to my expectations. ...more
Amy Westgarth
Oct 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was familiar territory for me as it was a bit of a mix of:

The Catcher in the Rye
Naïve. Super
Portrait of a Young Man Drowning: A Novel

and a tiny bit of The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches in that it is narrated by a young person (boy) who may or may not be autistic, is confused/troubled and has had something bad happen which you don't get to know about until the end.

It has also been likened to Girl, Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in that questions of "what is madn
Alexandria Smith
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Firstly let me say that my copy of this book is half the size of a regular paperback and could be considered 'pocket sized'. But does size matter? When a story packs this much punch, definitely not.

Executed from the point of view of an 8year old boy who has the misfortune of finding himself in The Children's Trust Residence Centre, a correctional home for youngsters with various psychological problems.

This book had me hooked at the tagline title 'when I was five I killed myself'... Buten write
Mark Derby
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In attempts at fiction, one of my few strengths was writing—with a semblance of plausibility—from a child's perspective, first-person. Not as well as Howard Buten has, however. And despite being (occasionally) capable of scrupulous recall of events from tender years? While reading ‘When I Was Five I Killed Myself’ (don't take the title literally), I lost count of how many times I was reminded of details I'd forgotten for decades. Scenes of day-to-day life: inextricable yet elusive as the water i ...more
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh my! What a wonderful, strange, quirky, insightful, quick little read this is! I would not go as far as comparing it to Catcher in the Rye, as some critics have done so, but it is very good in its own self.
This is the story of how 8 year old Burt ends up in an institution for disturbed children. It is superbly well told in his own voice. The author captures an 8 year old's frame of mind down to a T: the scattered thoughts, the obsessive ones, the way they process events in their minds...very n
Michael Conland
Feb 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Not sure what to make of this.

Obvious comparisons can be made to Catcher in The Rye and Perks of Being A Wallflower, but the tone of this is very different because the protagonist is 8 years old.

I really like the concept and certain chapters are really well done. There are some brilliant, childish and funny observations innocently made and that aspect is great. However, a couple of areas through the middle of the book just feel a bit garbled. There were one or two chapters which just felt like a
Mar 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: child-voice
So this was an unusual and very satisfying find.

There now seems to be a trend for books from the perspective of the unreliable narrator, possibly-autistic kid going through great trauma, so the space is already crowded with fine (and a lot of not-so-fine) examples - yet this one cuts through. Perhaps it's partly to do with the skilled translation or the European perspective or the author having spent so much time with children, but spending time inside Burt's head was both disorientating and add
This book is just brilliant! It's 'Girl, Interrupted' meets 'Calvin and Hobbes" and at times I even felt it like 'Alice in Wonderland' and of course it had its own character as well. It's hilarious and then it's also pretty serious, it's basically everything. It's amazing how Howard Buten managed to present it so authentically through the eyes of a kid, and not just a regular one but one with one heavy load of emotional baggage. I find it to be characteristic of a true genius and I'm just runnin ...more
May 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I put only three stars to that book, because I got a little bit disappointed. Indeed, before reading the book I had seen the movie. The movie is really well-done, poetic, wonderful and consequently I expected a lot from this book (perhaps too much). Usually it is quite the opposite; the book is often better than the movie, but here is (according to me) an exception.

J'ai mis que trois étoiles, car ce livre m'a un peu déçu. En effet, avant de le lire, j'avais vu le film qui est très bien tourné,
Mollie Everitt
Jul 10, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a really good book, just felt that a lot of things went unanswered. We found out what he did to Jessica but after the second page nothing is mention about his killing himself and the story carries on to when he was 8. The fact the title is called 'when I was five I killed myself' you'd think that was that was the main focus and that he actually did kill himself, but it never gets explained to us what actually happened or what it was. Also, the fact he imagines a lot of stuff happening do ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Never has a book ever made me want to scream and rid of all of my balled up emotions accumulated through the process of reading it. This book is amazing and often negatively judged and misinterpreted for all the wrong reasons. "Incorrect grammar" just an excuse to "not write well"? Inclusion of random memories and scenarios made it hard to follow? Certain events deemed far too abominable and inappropriate for the eyes of this society? THERE WERE REASONS WHY THESE WERE ALL PLACED IN THE BOOK THE ...more
I picked this book up because of the title, it just is one of those titles that you need to pick up to see what it is about.

But this book just didn't work at all for me, it didn't flow well and it felt choppy. Also this small child's language was far to advanced for his age. And the story had no ending it felt like someone chopped chapters out of the back of my book. So basically I hated this book and would recommend it to no one.
Jun 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Great writing style, capturing the seriousness of children and all the ways we misunderstand them. I was going to give this book 4 stars, maybe 5, but felt the ending to be anticlimactic and quite predictable. I also felt confused by Burt's chronological age, which didn't match his development. Or, sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn't. It felt uneven and not deliberate. ...more
Jan 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
This book made a lasting impression for such a quick read. I enjoy books that challenge my perception, and this certainly did that. Funny, sad, disturbing... The author seems to have captured the mind of an 8-year old. Not challenging to read, but challenging to the mind.
Kariss Ainsworth
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Loved this! The writing is so great and has a fantastic pitch between inocence and darkness. The child's voice comes through so well, it's beautiful, I felt so awful for him. I don't want to say too much for fear of giving something away but just read this! ...more
Mar 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction, 2012
I love a book that makes me pick up a pen and start underlining and writing notes in the margin.

Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have a lot of thoughts about this book. I think I’ll be mulling it over in my head for a few weeks, at least. What a weird, powerful, disturbing book; and it spoke to me in a lot of ways.

WHEN I WAS FIVE I KILLED MYSELF is essentially Donnie Darko meets Perks of Being a Wallflower as told by an eight-year-old. (Keep in mind, too, that this book was originally published in 1981, albeit to basically no success outside of France.)

I empathized deeply with the character of Burt. He’s incredibly brig
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Howard Buten is a professional clown, violinist, and novelist; he is also a psychologist specializing in autism.

His first novel, When I Was Five I Killed Myself, has also been published under the title Burt.

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