Friday, September 24, 2010

What I Saw And How I Lied

Nope, I didn't witness the crime of the century, lie about it and finally decide to reveal the truth here on Blogger. I just thought that the title of Judy Blundell's excellent novel, set just after WWII, also made for a rather attention-grabbing subject line.

And I'm trying to grab attention here, because it's a great book and I want to squee about it. I'm practically lapsing into LOLspeak.

Evie, the main character, is almost sixteen and ecstatic to have her perfect stepfather home from the war. She's also desperate to be anything except what she is. When aforesaid Perfect-Stepdad decides to whisk Evie and her glamorous Mom away to Florida for an indefinite holiday, Evie is puzzled but excited.

In Florida, she meets a recently-returned GI, and falls for him in that way that only almost-sixteen year old girls can. He's Handsome and Older and he seems to see in Evie the girl she wants to be, instead of the girl she is. But her parents don't seem to like him as much, and some of his stories don't quite add up. When tragedy strikes, Evie has to choose between her family and her new love - and she has to betray someone.

The use of language in a book is a funny thing - it's often the last thing I notice when it's done well, and the first thing I notice when it's done badly. Judy Blundell's book is unusual because the writing is so good that it actively stands out. I've written historical fiction and it's very hard to pitch your language properly - authentic and accurate without being stilted, modern and accessible without being anachronistic. Evie never says that Peter (her GI) is like, totally, like amazing, but she still manages to sound like a kid.

One line sold me on the whole book. A few pages in, Evie spots her crush talking to Ruthie Kalman, a Jewish girl in her class. Evie's best friend assures her that she has nothing to worry about, he wouldn't be allowed to date a Jew. And Evie thinks:

'It was almost worse that he couldn't have her. It was all Romeo and Juliet and balconies. Ruthie had European cousins who disappeared into camps during the war. She was so lucky - tragedy and curly hair.'

There isn't a single word there that a teenager in the 1940s wouldn't have said. No hint of anything anachronistic. But it still rings with a truth and authenticity that, as a former (or recovering!) teenage girl, hit me right where I live. I had that thought (or ones like it). It could be said today, over a mocha in Starbucks, or outside the milkshake shop in Dame Street in Dublin where gangs of teenagers congregate to make me feel old. And better than that - it's funny.

Apart from the outstanding quality of Blundell's writing, the characterisations are excellent. Even by the end, there is so much we aren't sure about - so much Evie isn't sure about. And Evie's development is very well done. She starts out as the classic YA narrator - female, plain but with potential, in the shadow of her pretty friend, dying to be someone she isn't, loving but resenting her protective parents, no serious problems in her life but no massive highs either. Her voice makes her compelling, but at first I was thinking 'I really like this girl, but she isn't anything new.'

Then the book takes off. And Evie really takes off.

Cannot recommend this one enough. Loved it.


  1. Wow, I have to get this book! Is it available here? I will look for it. Great review.

  2. It is available there, Judy Blundell is American. I was in Hodges Figgis (my favourite bookshop and one of the biggest in Dublin) yesterday and saw two copies of it. One was the same as the copy I got from the library - a black cover with a picture of a girl with 1940s curly hair applying red lipstick and smiling in a slightly devious way. The other one was bright pink (I mean you could see this this from space) and the title took up most of the cover, underlined by a drawing of a tube of lipstick. I'd like to find that second cover designer and ask them some serious questions! So if that's the edition you see, don't let it put you off :)

  3. I want to read this book. Agree with you about the two different cover designs - there really is no contest about which to get.

  4. I know, the pink cover is so misguided! I'd love to know who thought it was a good idea.

  5. I loved that book. She has another one out next spring/summer... cannot wait.


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