What I Was by Meg Rosoff

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What I Was by Meg Rosoff

Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Intense, dramatic and romantic, this pared-down novel is part picaresque, part rite of passage and part magic realism. It's challenging, affecting and haunting. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0141383439

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It's 1962 and a young boy is sent to a minor public school in East Anglia. He is just the sort of boy for whom the dying empire's education system proved such a nightmare. He's not athletic, he has an independent yet introverted personality and he doesn't think brute force is the way to dominate. He is, in short, an outsider, an observer. He is also naive and - much as he thinks he isn't - overindulged. So when he meets a strange boy on the beach - a boy outside the system, surviving alone and depending largely on nature for his sustenance, it's no wonder that our lad falls completely under his spell. But all is not quite as it seems...

In this wonderful novel, Meg Rosoff writes with pared-down, stark magical realism, using a simple narrative to lay bare levels of complexity shared by us all - inequality in both life and relationships; loneliness; deception; love; fulfilment. It's a first person narrative, but we don't learn the name of the person whose soul we're inhabiting until the last few pages of the book. Identity is a crucial theme in What I Was - on both a practical and emotional level. Who are we? Who will we become? When we look back over our lives, what person will we see? Played out on the disappearing coastline against the wild forces of nature, this adolescent relationship has intensity, longing, love and loss - and all an intrinsic part of life itself.

I don't want to say too much about what happens - because in the end, what happens isn't so much the point. This is an intense, haunting and lyrical novel with a sharp intelligence and a caustic wit, laid against the bedrock of the kind of calm understanding of life that allows a person to experience its full gamut. Its intensely romantic in the most classical sense and in many ways - despite the lack of any sex in a physical sense - it's a sexual coming-of-age novel in the vein of Colette or Sagan. In style, it's more like David Almond, brooding, powerful and naturistic - although Rosoff writes in a slightly more distant and cerebral way.

I read What I Was in a single sitting. I simply couldn't put it down. It's spare but strong, powerful but lyrical, intense but yielding. It comes highly, highly recommended for all highly-charged adolescents. I saw the twist coming - but I bet they are so into character, it hits them with the shock and force of a hurricane.

My thanks to the good people at Puffin for sending the book.

If they enjoyed What I Was, they might also enjoy David Almond's The Fire-Eaters, Kevin Brooks' Lucas or Linda Newbery's Set In Stone.

Booklists.jpg What I Was by Meg Rosoff is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.
Booklists.jpg What I Was by Meg Rosoff is in the Top Ten Love Stories For Teenagers.
Buy What I Was by Meg Rosoff at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What I Was by Meg Rosoff at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy What I Was by Meg Rosoff at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What I Was by Meg Rosoff at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

What you wrote also reminded me of Sebald's Rings of Saturn, somehow. Maybe because of East Anglia.