Friday, November 21, 2008

What I Saw and How I Lied

Hurray! The National Book Award Committee has done it again - What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell is an absolutely fantastic read and worthy winner of the prize.

I actually just finished reading the novel a few minutes ago and so I'm ready for a fresh rave. The plotting and pacing are impeccable. The characters are a winning mix of despicable and sympathetic. The humid Florida setting is so realistic I felt like I had to swim back to reality each time I took a break. And best of all, the ending is NOT tied up in a tidy bow. It's a noir-ish mystery, bildungsroman, and historical fiction.

This is the story of Evie, a 16-year-old girl living in Queens just after WWII. Her stepfather has just returned from the war and everything is going to be perfect. But Joe is not the same as he was before the war. He isn't as care free. When he proposes a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, Evie thinks it will be the break the family needs to get back to normal. Evie is also anxious to grow up and to be allowed to wear lipstick and more womanly clothes and to date. She longs to be a knock-out like her gorgeous mother, but knows that she is plain and young-looking.

In Florida, the family forms relationships with the sophisticated Graysons and the suave and mysterious Peter, with whom Evie falls in love. Joe begins to wheel and deal with Mr. Grayson, a hotelier, and leaves Evie and her mother to their own plans, which increasingly include Peter. Is Peter in love with Evie too? Maybe, but her mother is constantly with them, and Evie can't help but feel jealous of the attention Peter gives her dishy mom.

When the shiny veneer begins to wear off their idyllic getaway, and a mystery unfolds, Evie must come to terms with her parents as individuals with their own flaws and learn what kind of person she would like to become.

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