Sunday, April 27, 2008

Book Review: What I Was, by Meg Rosoff

Count me amongst Meg Rosoff's fans: I appreciate her off-kilter view on the world, her odd protagonists, and the room she leaves in her novels for the reader to think while events unfold.

What I Was is Rosoff's third novel and the second with a male narrator. This narrator tells his tale from the vantage point of old age, though his story concerns a brief period in his life while a student at a sub par boarding school in the 1960s. St. Oswald's is the type of institution that takes boys who have failed elsewhere. It is a grim establishment with gates, gray food, cold dorms, rats, and cruel boys. It's not surprising, then, that the narrator--Hilary--becomes distracted by Finn, a boy his age who lives by himself in a hut on an island.

Finn is entirely self-sufficient and no one knows he lives alone in his hut by the sea. Hilary visits as often as he can, bringing food and supplies, enduring Finn's silences because Hilary simply can't help himself. He's attracted to Finn, wants to be Finn. Hilary sneaks out of school, violates curfews, and lies to his roommates--all to be with Finn. Hilary's movements don't go unnoticed, however. One of his roommates is as attracted to Hilary as Hilary is to Finn.

What I Was is a quiet story of adolescent obsession until events come to a head. Finn falls seriously ill and Hilary must decide whether or not to alert authorities, a violent storm floods the hut and kills Hilary's schoolboy stalker. And Hilary learns something about Finn that he (and the reader) never suspects.

Hilary is not a sympathetic narrator. He's distant--to himself and to others. But he does narrate the truth and his story is one worth reading. What I Was is highly recommended for teen and adult readers.
Other Blog Reviews:

In the Tower
Monsters and Critics
Lewiston Public Library
Slacks for Ella Funt