Monday, May 23, 2011

The Girl with Lana Turner's Smile

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell:

When Evie's stepfather returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

As she begins to realize that almost everything she believed to be a truth was really a lie, Evie must get to the heart of the deceptions and choose between her loyalty to her parents and her feelings for the man she loves. Someone will have to be betrayed. The question is . . . who?

Summary from GoodReads.

Growing up in the shadow of a beautiful and witty mother, Evie spends a lot of time observing those around her. Unfortunately her mother’s desire to keep her a child has undermined her ability to understand the subtext of the opinions that make up her world. A last minute trip to Florida – supposedly as a vacation to celebrate her step-father’s return from the war, but quite possibly just to get away from the mysterious man calling the house – finally gives Evie the chance to reinvent and grow.

Basking in the attention of the mysterious and godly Peter, Evie slowly becomes aware in a way she never was before. The opinions she’s been living her life by just might not be right, and maybe everything is not perfect with her mother and stepfather. The intensity of the Florida is searing away the cover not just on the Spooner family secrets but those of the other hotel guests as well, and the situation comes to a head with a slur, a hurricane, and a possible murder.

What did Evie really see? What sacrifices will she make for her family and love?

And most importantly, what will she say on the witness stand?

What I Saw and How I Lied illustrates the opposites of the post WWII to era where people celebrated the fall of Germany even as they discriminated against people with Jewish last names. Evie’s awareness of the dichotomies in class, culture and her own life grows as she is forced to step out of her innocence and into a role filled with the kind of decision making that would break grown adults. Blundell weaves Evie’s innocent observations with an undercurrent that hints at the problems around her, and slowly builds the character and reader’s awareness. The time period and the historical details never overwhelm, layering into the plot to build the tension of the story.

I admit that I was slightly intimidated by the idea of a book set post the Great War. While I love the occasional classic movie, my own knowledge of the period is kind of glossed over by my high school AP History rush to cram everything in before the test. Blundell overcame this within the first few pages with her imagery of Evie pretending to smoke a chocolate cigarette. Her descriptions managed to convey that rush to grow up and capture a very iconic image I have in my mind of my own mother smoking. From there she creates a story so filled with layers that each page is a discovery building on the real contest of what Evie saw.

Does Blundell give us all the answers? No. And I can definitely see people having problems with Evie’s decision to lie and how she goes about it. But Evie has problems with it. That’s the point. The entire story is built on the effects of the lies we tell ourselves and others even when we know differently.

And now I’m afraid I’m making this sound like an “issues” book, when in reality I think it was a really accessible, wonderful story that will allow readers to discuss it long after they have finished reading. It highlights a time period that had a lot of issues that get glossed over in the greater history of the US of A. But really, it’s the story of a girl growing up and the decisions that come with that.

And if that’s too issue-y, then here’s Blundell's description: a “coming-of-age story involving blackmail, adultery, and possible homicide.”

All the things America still loves today.

What I Saw and How I lied was the National Book Award Winner for 2008.

You can purchase What I Saw and How I Lied from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: Got it from the library, recommended to old movie lovers.

1 comment:

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I've been curious about this book for a long time. Thanks for the review...I think I'll pick it up!