What I Was
Viking, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
What I Was
begins by portraying a miserable, middle class, sixteen-year-old boy serving time at an unpleasant British public boarding school, St. Oswald's in East Anglia, known for its '
long history and low standards
' - after being expelled from two previous ones. The school is filled with '
chippy little fascists
' enforcing inexplicable rules.
he the narrator - '
Picture a boy, small for his age, ears stuck at right angles to his head, hair the texture of straw and the color of mouse. Mouth: tight. Eyes: wary, alert
' - shares a room with three other boys, Barrett, Gibbon and Reese - the first two typical bullies, and Reese the whipping boy who also hangs around the narrator and seems to want to be his friend. Then this middle-class boy '
of no particulat merit
' meets Finn, '
the cat that walked by himself
' living an enviable life totally under societal radar.
inn lives in a cottage he took over from his grandmother on a small peninsula, accessible via a causeway for only a few hours every day. The narrator adulates Finn, who is everything he himself longs to be - '
He looked impossibly familiar, like a fantasy version of myself, with the face I had always hoped would look back at me from a mirror.
' The '
almost unbearably beautiful
' Finn, a confident and competent survivor, reluctantly tolerates - and often teaches - this intruder who seeks opportunities to spend more and more time with the boy he worships.
f course, such meetings can't remain secret forever, and it's clear that all will not end well - but Meg Rosoff builds up to a dissolution of Finn's and the narrator's lifestyles that is both shocking and tragic, and raises all kinds of questions for both the book's characters and its readers.
What I Was
is a most unusual story that will stay with you long after closing the last page, and make you think.
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