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When We Were Romans    by Matthew Kneale order for
When We Were Romans
by Matthew Kneale
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Written in the voice of a nine-year-old boy, When We Were Romans is a very unusual story of how two young children manage to cope with their mother's mental illness. Lawrence has all he can do to take care of his pet hamster Herman and somehow manage his baby sister Jemima's tantrums (all the while speculating on what is going on in space) to be overly concerned about his mum's behavior.

Yet when mum proposes a trip to Rome, Lawrence begins to become aware that things may not be that good. Fortunately, one of his mum's friends gives him a Hideous History book about Roman emperors, which provides him not only distraction but a lot of material for speculation.

Eventually mum brings the family to Scotland to finally end the troubles their dad has caused all along. Lawrence's observations of mum's behavior and his debates with himself - as to whether he is angry with his mum or whether she is right - are right on and truly poignant.

Where the story falls down in my opinion is at the end in the last sixteen pages when adults step in to help the family. This part feels rushed, and we don't get enough of Lawrence's take on what has happened. Nevertheless, author Kneale has managed to get us into the head of a very precocious and endearing child, whose narration of events is uniquely individual.

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