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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1552

In Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied , a teenage girl, Evie, tells her story in a compelling voice that leads the reader through events in the past year of her life. This coming-of-age work takes place in 1947 and is set in post-World War II America. It...

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In Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied, a teenage girl, Evie, tells her story in a compelling voice that leads the reader through events in the past year of her life. This coming-of-age work takes place in 1947 and is set in post-World War II America. It is a plot-driven mystery filled with twists and turns. From the beginning, the reader knows something unfortunate has happened to Evie but is not quite sure what has occurred.

The novel begins with the narrator and her mother, Beverly, alone in a hotel room in Palm Beach, afraid to go out because people might recognize them because of the newspaper headlines. Evie is lying awake on the bed beside her mother, pretending to be asleep but highly attuned to her mother’s actions as well as her perfume and cigarette smoke. After she wakes up, Evie grabs a couple candy bars and a soda and rides her bike to the ocean to think about what has happened to her in the past year. She wonders how she could have seen the signs and how she could have prevented it from happening. However, the reader does not know the nature of the terrible events until much later in the novel. The rest of the story is about the events that lead to this point.

Evie recalls that it all started the day before her stepfather took the family to Florida on a vacation. She was living her life as usual in Queens as a young teenager, practicing smoking with candy cigarettes and talking about boys with her friend Margie. However, unlike her friends, Evie has no father present in her life and she feels the lack of it.

Evie’s home situation is full of conflict. Her mother and grandmother frequently fight. Evie spends a lot of time watching her mother, trying to figure out what it means to be a woman. However, she is left alone much of the time because her mother works. Her stepfather, Joe, is in the army. Evie and her mother see other soldiers returning home and patiently wait for Joe to return from the war. He does not come back until one year after the war ends.

Joe suddenly comes home and surprises them with gifts. He also has a lot of money, which he claims he received from a GI loan. With the cash, he opens up some appliance stores. They are doing well financially, but Joe is unhappy and often drinks. Evie notices that Joe is acting differently, but she thinks it is because of the war, which he refuses to talk about. Out of the blue, Joe decides to take them to Palm Beach, Florida. It is December and there are few people at the hotel in Palm Beach, but they meet Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, with whom they socialize. Evie meets a boy, Wally, at the hotel but does not like him because he is her age, which she considers too young. Evie thinks she is more mature than she really is, so she is attracted to men.

In the pool area outside of the hotel, she meets Peter Coleridge. She likes him immediately because he is older and she is looking for a romantic relationship. In addition, Peter treats her as if she is an adult. Evie likes that. He dances with her by the pool. This is a critical point in the novel because after meeting Peter, Evie quickly becomes infatuated and all she can do is think of him while many events are unraveling around her that she cannot see. The next morning, she sees Peter at the hotel and they have breakfast. Her parents walk in and she introduces them to Peter, but he already knows her father. They served in the war together. Joe does not like Peter, but Evie does not know why. She assumes it is because Peter is much older than she is and her father disapproves.

Evie is very perceptive and realizes there is an unresolved problem between Joe and Peter but does not quite understand it. At the hotel, Joe becomes close with Mr. Grayson and spends more and more time with him. Finally, Joe is persuaded by Mr. Grayson to make an offer to buy the hotel together. When Joe tells his wife, Beverly, and Evie they are surprised at his spontaneous decision. He told them earlier that he was financially overextended with his appliance stores in Queens. However, the plans fall through when the hotel manager discovers that Mr. Grayson is Jewish. He is immediately evicted from the hotel. Evie is indignant and cannot understand how the seemingly nice manager can be anti-Semitic. Joe is very upset about the deal that fell through and becomes increasingly angry with Peter. Evie cannot understand why Joe focuses all his anger toward Peter. One night, when Evie is alone with Peter, he confesses to her that he and Joe stole some expensive items before they left Austria after the war. The goods had been pilfered by the Germans from the Jewish people. They stole valuable jewelry, gold, and heirlooms. Joe sold them and was supposed to share the money with Peter. Evie has a hard time coming to terms with her stepfather's stealing, especially from Jewish prisoners. Astutely, Evie adds up all that she knows about Joe and combines that with the new information Peter has given her and sees a clearer but unattractive picture of Joe’s true character.

As the novel unfolds, Evie learns more about the secrets and deceptions of other people too, even her mother. Evie knows how her mother has always protected her, not permitting her to dress too grown-up or go out with boys. On several occasions, her mother accompanies Evie and Peter on their outings, such as to a movie or during Evie's driving lessons. Evie thought her mother insisted on chaperoning because of her values about chastity and morality. Soon, however, she realizes that her mother was having an affair with Peter all along, pretending to be the chaperon for Evie when she was actually using that time to plot secret meetings with him. Evie feels betrayed because her mother is not who Evie thought she was. Evie is confused and hurt and has to go over the details of the trip to Florida over and over again to make sense of it.

At the height of the novel's action, Joe insists on taking an ocean fishing trip with Peter and Beverly. There is a hurricane brewing, however, and their boat gets in trouble out at sea. For two days they are lost. Joe and his wife are discovered alive but Peter is dead. No one knows what really happened on the boat; Joe is suspected of foul play so an investigation is undertaken. During the investigation and inquiry, Evie learns many lies about her parents. She also learns something about Peter: he had been blackmailing her father because he owed Peter money from selling the items they had stolen after the war.

Because of the information that was uncovered during the investigation, Evie discovers her life with her parents was mostly a lie. She confronts terrible truths about the people whom she had trusted all her life; worst of all, she realizes that in order for them to live, she must lie. This is a hugely difficult process for Evie because she is a very honest person. First, she has to see the situation objectively. Then she must weigh the consequences of telling the truth. Finally, she decides to lie. She lies to the lawyer and under oath to save her parents from going to jail for Peter’s death.

At the end of the novel, Evie has grown emotionally and intellectually. She is no longer trusting and naive, and she learns the difference between love and infatuation. She is able to define herself, separate from her parents, and how to make decisions on her own. In Chapters 33 and 34, the reader learns the answer to the overriding questions: what did she see and why did she lie? Evie saw a great deal that she refuses to tell. She saw through the evil lies and deceptions of her parents and Peter. Evie lied about herself; she told the enquiry that she was the one kissing Peter that night by the pool, not her mother as a witness had thought they saw. She also said that it was Peter who wanted to go out on the boat that day fishing, not her stepfather, Joe. In short, Evie cast a negative light on her own reputation as a young woman in order to save her parents.

In one of the last scenes, Evie contacts Mrs. Grayson in New York. She confides in Mrs. Grayson about her feelings for Peter. She also tells him how she feels the need to give her stepfather’s money to her or to other Jewish survivors of World War II. The wise Mrs. Grayson assures Evie that money taken in that way could not be any good to anyone. She is the moral and loving mother figure that Evie never had. In the end, Evie is the heroine because she chose her own path in life and did not follow in her parents' footsteps.

Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1105

Author: Judy Blundell (b. 1956)

First published: 2008

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical fiction

Time of plot: The 1940s

Locales: Palm Beach, Florida; Queens, New York

Principal characters

Evie, a teenager

Joe, her stepfather, a veteran

Beverly, her mother

Peter Coleridge, a veteran who goes to Palm Beach looking for Joe

The Story

Evie and her best friend Margie are typical teenagers living in the United States in the 1940s, after World War II. Their interests include smoking candy cigarettes, fashion, and talking about beautiful female celebrities. While Margie is somewhat cruel and racist, Evie is more innocent and naïve, and deeply worries about the mistreatment of others around her. Despite the prosperous time the country is experiencing after the war, Evie cannot help but notice the visible prejudices against people from different racial backgrounds.Courtesy of Scholastic Inc.

Evie lives with her mother, Beverly, and her stepfather, Joe, who has recently returned from war. As the details of their lives begin to unfold, Joe, who owns a successful electronics store, is shown in a constant state of agitation. His days are interrupted by anonymous phone calls, which seems to be the reason why he finds himself in this mood. One day, after receiving a phone call, Joe abruptly decides to take his family on vacation to Palm Beach, Florida. At first they are excited about the trip, but this quickly changes when they arrive in the sweltering heat and find themselves with nothing to do.

As the novel progresses, the reader witnesses Evie wanting to step out of her mother's shadow. Evie admires her mother's beauty and considers herself plain. Evie, who is fifteen years old, cannot wait to grow up and become a woman. One day, she decides to try on one of her mother's dresses. When Beverly comes back to the hotel room and finds Evie wearing the dress, she persuades her to attend a school dance that is taking place in the hotel ballroom. Initially, Evie feels uncomfortable at the dance, but then she meets a handsome young man named Peter Coleridge. Peter dances with Evie and makes her feel special.

Over the next few days, while Joe and Beverly spend their time playing bridge with the Graysons—an affluent Jewish couple they met at the hotel—Evie spends her time with Peter. Eventually, Peter tells Evie that he knows Joe from the war. It is apparent, however, that Joe is not happy with Peter's presence in Palm Beach. Before dinner one evening, Joe announces that he is going into the hotel business with the Graysons and hopes to move to Florida. Joe warns Evie to stay away from Peter, telling her he is not trustworthy. Evie, however, cannot stay away from Peter and when the two finally kiss, she begins to fall in love with him. A few nights later, there is a dinner to celebrate the business partnership between Joe and the Graysons. The night, however, is ruined when Peter and Joe start fighting and Joe punches Peter in the face.

When they return from dinner, the hotel informs the Graysons that they can no longer stay there because they are Jewish. Disheartened by the prejudice of the situation, Evie runs away to find Peter. It is in this moment when he confesses the truth to her. Peter and Joe had come across a suitcase full of gold during the war and had decided to transport it back to the United States. The intention was to split it, but Joe had disappeared before sharing any of it. Peter had been the one constantly calling Joe at his business in New York to ask for his half. Without an answer from Joe, Peter had decided to follow him to Florida to ask for his gold in person.

The next day, Joe and Beverly persuade Peter to go out on a boat ride with them, leaving Evie alone on shore. Things turn ugly, however, when a storm hits Florida and Evie is forced to evacuate the hotel. When she is reunited with her parents, she finds out that Peter has suspiciously drowned. As her parents are questioned by the police, it becomes clear that they have murdered Peter. Evie lies for her parents to save them from murder charges. In the end, Evie, aware of her parents' true nature, decides to continue her life without caring about money or superficial beauty.

Critical Evaluation

What I Saw and How I Lied received the 2008 National Book Award for young people's literature. The book was praised for evoking sense of period and for addressing issues such as prejudice, betrayal, and the impact these have on young people like Evie. What I Saw and How I Lied was the first young-adult novel Blundell published under her own name. Previously she wrote and published works under the pseudonym Jude Watson, by which she is better known.

What I Saw and How I Lied explores the influence popular culture has on young girls like Evie and Margie. There is an instance in the book where Evie and Margie buy candy cigarettes and pretend to smoke them. Furthermore, when they talk about their favorite celebrities they focus on their looks and beauty. Through dialogue, Blundell shows how the values that these girls are exposed to are having a profound impact on their personal beliefs about how they should look, act, and dress.

More importantly, the reader accompanies Evie through a journey of self-discovery. Blundell's novel presents a young girl who is desperate to become an adult. It turns out, however, that maturing is not as easy as Evie thinks. At the beginning of the novel, her innocence does not allow her to see flaws in others. In her eyes Joe is a kind man who treats her like his own daughter. Evie fails to realize, however, how desperate he is to become successful—it is this desperation that ultimately leads him to commit murder. Likewise, Evie admires her mother, but she does not realize that Beverly is complicit in everything Joe does. As the novel progresses, the reader witnesses Evie leaving her innocence behind and coming to the realization that everyone is flawed. In the end, Evie is determined to live a truthful life, which shows that she has finally matured.

Further Reading

  • Blundell, Judy. "Q & A with Judy Blundell." Interview by Sue Corbett. Publishers Weekly, 20 Jan. 2011, www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/45848-q-a-with-judy-blundell.html. Accessed 4 Jan. 2017.
  • Blundell, Judy. "2008 National Book Award Winner, Young People's Literature." Interview by Rita Williams-Garcia. National Book Foundation, 2008, www.nationalbook.org/nba2008_ypl_blundell_interv.html. Accessed 4 Jan. 2017.
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