A post-war journey to adulthood
Evie Spooner is a 15-year-old New Yorker growing up in post-World War II Queens; she loves the Dodgers, candy cigarettes, her parents and Frank Sinatra, though not necessarily in that order. She's learning from her friends how women are supposed to act, but she doesn't think she'll ever be as pretty and sophisticated as her mother. Evie's looks apparently came from her long-departed father, a man eclipsed by her adored stepfather, Joe. Her late summer reverie is broken by his announcement that the three of them will be vacationing in Palm Beach, Florida, but this is a trip that will cover more than miles: it will be a journey from childhood to adulthood, where her loyalty will be tested and she will learn both the joy of love and the shattering pain of betrayal.
What I Saw and How I Lied, which won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in November, is the marvelous new book for teens by Judy Blundell, a veteran writer of more than 100 books, who is publishing under her own name for the first time.
Blundell has good reason to want her name on this work; it's a compelling coming-of-age story of blackmail and tragedy with a strong moral center. Evie Spooner is that center, and as the awkward teen tries to fit into the social scene at a rundown hotel her father is negotiating to buy, she finds herself falling in love with handsome young Peter Coleridge, whose Long Island father has "business interests" in Palm Beach. More importantly, he served with Evie's father in post-war Austria, and she quickly realizes that there's more to their past connections than he's saying. As summer wanes, her feelings for Peter increase, her stepfather's negotiations become strained, and there's talk of bad weather ahead. More than one kind of storm is brewing for Evie.
This beautifully written story is full of period detail, from a post-war New York City right out of Life magazine to a sleepy and sticky Florida courthouse, and its well-drawn and original characters spring to life on the page. Like much of the best literature being written for teens, this gripping novel would also make a top-notch read for adults.
James Neal Webb works in a university library.