Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Report: What I Saw and How I Lied

The cover of What I Saw and How I Lied contains a single, stark image of a young girl, in sepia tone, but for her lipstick. The lighting imitates the dark-and-light contrast that characterized vintage noir. It's a beautifully designed cover that speaks to many of the themes in the book.

Evie Spooner is fifteen in 1947; like all fifteen-year-olds, she dreams of being grown-up. Her story begins with a trip to the candy store with her best friend; they buy candy cigarettes so they can "practice smoking." Her friend considers smoking the ultimate in adult glamor; Evie finds that glamor in lipstick, which she's forbidden to wear until she's 18.

It's nearing the end of summer and Evie's stepfather Joe, recently returned from the war, wants to take his girls on a trip to Palm Beach. They stay in a glamorous, but near-empty resort, where Evie is reduced to playing hopscotch on the hallway carpet for lack of a companion.

But that all changes when Peter Coleridge shows up. Joe seems nervous around his former army buddy, but the Spooner girls take to him quite easily. Evie begins spending time with him, finding herself in the middle of her first love.

Although the first love plotline is the stuff of a typical coming-of-age story, What I Saw and How I Lied uses it as a jumping-off point for Evie's true growing experience: Evie loses Peter tragically, then becomes swept up in a murder investigation focused on her parents. The second half of the book centers around Evie's decisions about what she's capable of doing and her own decisions about moral right and wrong.

I've been reading a lot of books from the Young Adult section lately, but this is the first that really tries something different. Judy Blundell writes with a noirish spareness that adds a stylish melancholy to Evie's transition into adulthood. There's a cinematic quality to the story in general - Evie's narration has that cynical noir voice-over quality and the locations are very stylish, grand, and smoke-filled.

It's a story that stays with you. I've been thinking about what I want to say about it all week - that it's stylish, affecting, a believable coming-of-age story. But mostly, it's just a good book that I really, really loved reading!