Evie Spooner's used to going without. It's what she did during the war. It's what everyone did. Now that Hitler's been defeated and the troops have come home, though, things are changing. Victory gardens are turning back into lawns; food's no longer being rationed; people are buying new homes; things are looking up for everyone. Even though Evie's still stuck living with her battleaxe of a step-grandmother, she's thrilled that her stepdad made it home from the war in one piece. Now that Joe Spooner's building up a successful appliance business, their little family might finally be able to leave the city for a quaint suburban house of their own.
When Evie's dad suggests a spur-of-the-moment trip to sunny Florida, it seems to be just one more sign of the Spooners' newfound prosperity. Evie's never stayed in a hotel before, so the prospect of spending weeks in one feels so glamorous she wants to squeal with delight. So what if Palm Beach is basically deserted this time of year? There are enough guests at Le Mirage to make things interesting, especially when handsome Peter Coleridge shows up. Even though he's 8 years older than Evie, she quickly falls for her father's dashing army buddy. After so much "making do" during the war years, she feels like she's finally arrived - she's summering in tony West Palm, sunning herself on the beach, drinking freshly-squeezed orange juice, finally getting some attention from not just a boy, but a man, and doing it all without her grandmother's evil eye boring through her.
Evie hardly notices when things start to unravel. Only after a horrifying boat accident does she realize just how wrong things have become. It's only afterward, when she's forced to consider the events of the summer, that she finally asks herself the tough questions: Who was Peter, really? Was the tension she felt between him and her father just because of Peter's attention to Evie? And what truly occurred on the boat that night? The truths will shock her to her core, making her question not only herself, but also the people she loves the most.
Judy Blundell brings 1947 to vivid life in the noirish What I Saw and How I Lied, painting the post-war years in all their glitz and careful optimism. It's only through quick snapshots that the reader senses a dark undercurrent drifting below the story's glittering. Before he/she even really knows it, the reader's swept into a taut, well-paced thriller that's suddenly very hard to put down. Evie's infernal naivete makes the finale rather predictable, but there's enough going on to keep things interesting.
Whether it is that predictability, or Evie herself, or just a kind of coldness in the novel's tone, I didn't love this one like I wanted to. There's no question that the book is well-written and I don't hesitate to recommend it to fans of the genre - it's just not my favorite. Still, What I Saw and How I Lied is a sleek, smart little mystery that many will find riveting.
(Readalikes: I can't think of any, can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and sexual innuendo/mature themes
To the FTC, with love: I received this book from Scholastic. Thanks!