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What I Saw and How I Lied Is a Teen Novel With Shades of Film Noir

January 10, 2010

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
published by Scholastic Press November 1, 2008

Evelyn is almost 16 and filled with adolescent yearning. She is eager to grow up and start her life. She wants to be beautiful and desirable like her mother and experience love. It is 1947, and many soldiers have returned from the second world war, including Evie’s beloved stepfather, Joe. Unfortunately, he is bringing home secrets, and his attempts to escape his past take the whole family down a slippery slope.

The author of What I Saw and How I Lied appears to have meticulously recreated the mood and language of the time, and the book has many elements of noir — a film and book genre that blossomed in the post-war period, spinning stories of mystery, sexual tension, and human corruption.

According to Bookslut:

This is a book that sings of Bogart and Bacall, Raymond Chandler and Robert Mitchum and utterly and completely of Gene Tierney. You do not have to be a noir fan to enjoy it however, and it is assuredly a teen drama with wide appeal. I found a great deal to admire in Blundell’s writing here, and in her willingness to take a chance on a setting and style rarely visited for teens. There is a reason why this book is an award winner; it is completely cool.

In true noir style, the mystery keeps readers wondering what’s around the next corner, unsure whom to trust. It is also a multi-layered historical novel that reflects attitudes and economic changes in post-War America. It delves into antisemitism and racism, foreshadowing the societal changes ahead — for example, after serving in the second World War, African Americans will fight harder against discrimination, giving birth to the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. This novel offers fertile ground for discussion of historical and social changes in the last half of the 20th century.

Above all, it’s a rich coming of age story. We watch Evie reach the brink between innocence and sexuality and between trust and cynicism. It is both fascinating and heart wrenching. She is also being forced to choose between youthful dependence and relying on her own strength, while making a life changing decision about whether to lie or tell the truth at any cost.

This novel kept me up well into the night. The mystery lover in me was sorely disappointed in the unanswered questions that lingered at the end of the book, but in a literary sense, the ending worked. I highly recommend this book for mature teens and adults who enjoy coming of age stories, including those who don’t usually enjoy historical fiction.

Read More Reviews:
Becky’s Book Reviews
Shelf Elf
The Ya Ya Yas
The Reading Zone

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