What I Saw and How I Lied

By Judy Blundell

What_I_SawFifteen-year-old Evie Spooner is facing a new world, in more ways than one. America is seeing the return of servicemen from World War II, along with a postwar boom. Evie herself is caught between the comfort of childish things and the irresistible pull of adulthood—the mystery of filling out a stylish dress and wearing a pop of red lipstick, of craving the attention of a boy. Evie wants nothing more than to be recognized as a grown-up, but is ill-equipped for the dissonance between her childish dreams and the harsh reality of maturation.

The Spooner family is happy and well-off—on the surface. But an exciting move to Palm Beach, Florida, turns out to be not quite as exciting, or as glamorous, as anyone had expected. And Evie’s newfound passion for handsome ex-G.I. Peter Coleridge blinds her to the seeds of discord he sows in her parents’ relationship. When a deadly hurricane strikes the Florida coast, Evie’s left to pick up the pieces of shattered hopes and dreams.

Judy Blundell's “What I Saw and How I Lied,” winner of the National Book Award, is a darkly atmospheric, morally ambiguous coming-of-age story, reminiscent in many ways of classic film noir such as “Key Largo” and “Laura.” Though I’m fond of film noir, there was a surprising disconnect between how I related to those films and how I responded to the same principles playing out on the page with a teenage protagonist. With a youthful Evie at its center, the tropes of this kind of entertainment take on an even more sinister tone—and the response it provokes in me as a consumer of both mediums is a call to a conscious review and discerning consumption of the same.

Evie's honesty and her longing to experience adulthood make for a highly relatable cautionary tale. Though I “survived” my teenage years over 15 years ago, I can well remember the desire to be taken more seriously, to be viewed as an adult ready to cope with responsibilities and experiences beyond my ken, oft-times frustrated with parental protective oversight. In hindsight, I couldn’t be more thankful for involved, caring parents—parents who balanced concern while allowing room to grow, room to learn from one’s mistakes . . . the opposite of Evie’s experience. While I suspect her attempts to keep the familial peace will ring all too true for many who read her tale, she sadly lacks the guidance and role models she needs, and is ultimately left to be the parent rather than learn from or with her own parents. Her disturbing story, though set in such a different time, left me wondering how many teenagers like her are still out there, struggling for survival. More and more it seems the news is filled with tales of children who are victimized by those whom they should be able to rely on for protection and help on the thorny path to adulthood, emphasizing the need for adults—both married and single—to fill the gap in a prayerful, responsible manner.

The chilling and intense “What I Saw and How I Lied” isn’t an easy read, but I believe it’s an important and thought-provoking one, worthy of discussion between teens and the adults in their lives as to the repercussions of the choices Evie and her parents make, some in the name of love, some in the name of self-interest.

Ruth Anderson blogs at Booktalk & More.

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