Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Publisher Review: What I Was

by Meg Rosoff. Reviewed for Doubleday/Random House. Here is their info on the title.

(a note about publisher reviews and kittenpie reads)

This was one of those much-hyped titles this last fall/winter season, so I was curious, because it sounded interesting, with the vague descriptions I heard, and because I've never read anything by this author before. It was an interesting book - a looking back, a sort of reverie of a time in the narrator's life that changed and stuck with him.

He is not a boy with ambition, not a boy suited to the boarding school life that has been chosen for him, not a tough boy, but one who has learned to survive in that setting. Still, he has been failed out of or expelled from more than one school already, and is at what is pretty much his last chance school. He is going through the motions, when he sees something that changes everything. On a forced class run, he sees a beach shack and a smallish boy beside it, and decides to make his acquaintance. He is fascinated by him - his physical grace and beauty, his independence, his strength and capability, and the fantasy of living without adult supervision. Indeed, he sort of falls in love, though he seems unsure of what kind of love it is, whether it's about the boy, or the fantasy, or about a wish to be like him.

In the end, though, his occasional playing at keeping house with his friend doesn't add up to knowing what to do when his friend seems really and truly sick, and he puts his friend's position in jeopardy to get the help he doesn't know how to give any other way. (Yes, I am being vague here, but there is a surprise twist at the end that is worth keeping a surprise!) The book closes with the boy now an old man, returning to the scene, now long slid under the sea, where the beach house once stood, remembering.

The book is written in lovely, lyrical language and has the feel of a dream state through most of it, which really works, and kept me captive. My only real quibble is whether most boys would read this or enjoy it. It doesn't have much action, it has a questionable sexual subtext that might make less secure boys uncomfortable, and the dreaminess of it may be offputting to some. I would certainly recommend this to girls, but I think it would take a particularly sensitive, dreamy boy or one secure in himself and with a genuine interest in literature to appreciate this, even with a boy protagonist.

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