A few weeks ago I opened a package from Scholastic that included a review copy of What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell. I glanced it over and quickly put it on my “To Be Read” shelf. (Sidenote: Yes, shelf. My pile has grown to an entire bookshelf). While the cover was gorgeous, there was no blurb on the back. It looked like a typical YA title so I figured I would read it when I had a chance, not thinking it was anything special. Then, the National Book Award nominees were announced, and What I Saw And How I Lied was on the list. I figured I would read it quickly over the weekend, as I had already read and loved 3 of the other 5 nominees.
Why did I wait so long to read this?! And why have I not heard any buzz about Blundell’s stunning book yet?
Evie and her mom have always been a team. Her dad left them long ago, and they’ve been each other’s best friend ever since. Shortly before World War II, Evie’s mother met Joe, a man who took care of them both. Before he was shipped out, they were married and Evie got the father she had always imagined. Times were tough during the war, and they were even tougher because Evie and her mom were forced to live with Joe’s mom, cranky Grandma Glad (a misnomer if Evie has ever heard one). But when Joe Spooner returns from the war, it seems like everything has gone back to normal. Sure, Joe doesn’t talk about the war. But Evie and her mother do everything they can to be a great family for him. And Joe is able to open up a chain of appliance stores in New York City, making more money than they ever imagined possible.
Life seems perfect, until Joe starts receiving phone calls from a supposed war buddy. When Joe begins acting strange and uncomfortable, he suggests the family take a vacation to Florida. Even though school starts in only a few weeks, Evie is eager for some adventure. What 15 year old isn’t? So Evie, her mother, and Joe pack the car and head to Palm Beach. Of course, no one has told them that Palm Beach is empty in the summer and won’t be full of life again until December! But they manage to find an open hotel and book an open-ended stay.
It’s the dream of a lifetime for Evie. Sun, swimming, shopping, and no school! The Spooners befriend another couple in the hotel, the Graysons, who take a special interest in Evie. Mrs. Grayson takes a liking to Evie and enjoys dressing her up and convincing her parents to treat her as less of a child and more of an adult. Evie begins to grow into herself, experimenting with her burgeoning womanhood. Dresses, perfume, and her mother’s heels are suddenly more appealing than before.
Then Peter shows up at the hotel. An old army buddy of Joe’s, he happens to be in Palm Beach taking care of some business deals for his father. He’s young, handsome, worldly, and Evie falls in love immediately. Very reluctantly, Joe allows Evie and her mother to spend time with Peter. Falling deeper and deeper in love, Evie begins to learn that adulthood isn’t all sunshine and butterflies. When Peter begins to share his experiences in the war with her, she learns that Joe isn’t the man she thought he was. Suddenly, she questions her life and her family. Does war excuse atrocious acts? If her father made it home, is that good enough?
One night, during a terrible hurricane, everything takes a turn for the darker side. Suddenly, Evie is surrounded by a murder, murder(s), and lies. Who can she trust? Is her mother
I hate to summarize the book, because Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. To summarize more would give away too much of the plot and I would hate to ruin it for anyone.
Once I began reading, it immediately became clear why this is a National Book Award nominee. It’s almost impossible to put this book down. And along with a fascinating story, Judy Blundell has included accurate and fascinating historical details. Yes, this is historical fiction that teens will want to read! In fact, it’s the best kind of historical fiction- teens won’t even realize that it’s historical! The setting is a vital part of the story, rather than an extraneous backdrop only good for history lessons.
Evie is a complicated teen that contemporary readers will identify with. Her mother babies her and doesn’t want to see her grow up. She just wants to be treated like an adult. When she falls in love with a slightly older man, she finally feels like she has become the adult no one will let her be. But is adulthood all it is cracked up to be? And are the ties of a first love more binding than those of family? And how do you choose?
If you haven’t read this yet, get your hands on it right now! You will not be able to put it down.
Nota Bene- When I googled Judy Blundell, I was shocked to find out she has published hundreds of books under pseudonyms. She is Jude Watson of the Premonition books, a favorite of my students! And even better, she will be writing the 4th book in The 39 Clues series!