What I Saw and How I Lied written by Judy Blundell, Scholastic Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-043-990-3462
It is 1947 and fifteen-year-old Evie spends her summer days smoking chocolate cigarettes with her friend, imitating her glamorous and much talked about mother, Bev. When her stepfather, Joe, returns from the war, the three of them take a family vacation down to Florida during the off-season. Palm Beach is nearly empty except for another couple, Arlene and Tom Grayson, and a charming bachelor named Peter.
Evie immediately is attracted to the mysterious Peter, who turns out to have spent time in the war with her stepfather, Joe. Arlene takes Evie under her wing and helps her become more “womanly” to flirt with Peter. When Bev becomes upset, Evie assumes it’s because she doesn’t want her daughter spending time with an older man but soon she thinks that Bev is interested in Peter as well. Bev assures Evie she’s just imagining things, but when Peter drowns in a boating accident, Evie must come to terms with the truth of her parent’s past and decide whether or not to ruin their future.
What I Saw and How I Lied is a terrific thriller that reminded me of the classic film noir of the forties and fifties. Fifteen-year-old Evie is surrounded by adults who have their secrets. Joe and Peter are hiding a crime that took place during the war. Bev is hiding her clandestine affair with Peter. This makes the book intriguing and suspenseful as Evie and the reader try to understand these dark relationships and figure out who is double-crossing whom.
Blundell even captures the style and tone of those noirish films in her prose. The atmosphere of the novel, even when the setting changes to Palm Beach is dark and foreboding. Take this opening passage for example: “The match snapped, then sizzled, and I woke up fast. I heard my mother inhale as she took a long pull on a cigarette. Her lips stuck on the filter, so I knew she was still wearing lipstick. She’d been up all night.”
In addition to being a great mystery, the novel also touches on the anti-Semitism of the time period. At one point the Graysons are forced out of Palm Beach due to prejudice, which is ironic considering Joe and Peter just returned from fighting to defeat the Nazis in Europe.
Fifteen-year-old Evie is thrown into the dark world of adult intrigue when she travels down to Palm Beach, Florida with her glamorous mom and step-dad. When someone she cares for ends up dead, she must decide if the man’s death was accidental, or the result of her parents scheming.
Information about the author
From the author’s page on Wikipedia, we learn that “Judy Blundell, pseudonym Jude Watson, is an American author of books for middle grade, young adult, and adult readers. She won the annual National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2008 for the young-adult novel What I Saw and How I Lied, published under her real name by Scholastic Books. Blundell lives in Katonah, New York with her daughter and husband. Her husband, Neil Watson, is the Director of the Katonah Museum of Art.”
Young adult fiction
Does the choice Evie makes at the end of the novel surprise you? Do you agree with her choice?
If this is a coming of age novel, how does Evie change by the end? Is the change for the better or worse?
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
Why did I include this title?
A friend of mine recommended this book to me, knowing how much I love the classic detective novels of Raymond Chandler. Blundell’s writing in What I Saw and How I Lied is terrific and makes this noirish thriller exciting to read. At the heart of it is a young girl who must make a tough decision. To this day, I’m still not sure if she made the right one.