When I saw the cover of Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, I immediately had to pick this book up. The image of a young girl putting on bright red lipstick in this day and age of lipgloss advertises at once that the time period is from the past. However, like a lot of young girls, this one is obviously playing at grownup. Even with the gray tones set against a black background, you know this girl is headed for trouble.
Her name is Evelyn, but she’s called Evie by her mom, stepdad, and friends. Evie hasn’t had a good life. Before she was born, her dad ran off and left her mom. Later, her mom met Joe, a near do well businessman who lives with his mother Gladys, known unaffectionately as Grandma Glad.
When Joe goes off to serve in World War Two, Grandma Glad keeps an eye on Beverly, Evie’s mom, and demands to know when she’s even five minutes late. Evie is too young to understand what’s going on with these demands, but she doesn’t like her grandmother anyway.
Later, after Joe returns from the war, he ends up with some money and invests in a string of appliance stores. A mysterious phone call from a man he knew in the war sends Joe running for cover to Palm Beach. Evie and her mother go along. Beverly is suspicious, but Evie believes this to be a grand adventure. Not only that, the sudden vacation gets her out of school.
One of the main things that resonates throughout the novel is Evie’s innocence. She relays everything that’s going on (the author uses a first-person narrative), but the reader knows that Evie just doesn’t understand. She tries very hard to be grown up – dressing in her mother’s dresses, stuffing her bra with tissues, and trying on makeup.
I loved the way this innocence is portrayed throughout the novel, up until the points it is given away and lost forever. There’s a lot of emotion in those scenes, just as the author intended.
While in Palm Beach, Evie runs into Peter, Joe’s old army buddy. Peter is a young man, 23-years-old, nearly old enough to be Joe’s son. Peter acts happy to see Joe again, but Joe wants nothing to do with Peter. So Evie’s attraction to Peter is doubly delicious for her because he is an older man (she’s only 15) and she can get to know Peter better without her parents horning in.
Again, the author knows a young girl’s psyche and motivations extremely well, and all of these scenes rang true. They were written so well that I was torn between being a parent reading this and remembering what it was like to be a teenager desperately wanting an adult life of my own.
The plot also touches on the anti-Semitic prejudice that was so large after World War Two. Personally, I think a lot of today’s audience, especially young readers, won’t understand that prejudice and how strong it was at the time. This plot point definitely marks the time period, though.
The book is being marketed as a young adult novel by Scholastic Press, but I think a lot of adults would enjoy this novel as well. It’s a clean, well-written story that can be read in a couple of sittings, and it’s one that you can pass down to your teens who love to read. The subject matter and the time period are sure to start conversations about both of those areas.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s set up to feel like classic film noir and succeeds admirably in that vein. Nobody in this book is completely good or without faults – not even Evie.
I felt the book did let me down in one respect. A mystery is presented, but the revelation of that mystery is only hinted at. I wanted more of an answer, and I think many readers will feel the same way. But Evie’s voice, and her innocence, will stay with readers young and old for a very long time.