What I Saw and How I Lied

Evie Spooner is a typical 15-year-old girl who loves her stepfather and idolizes her mother. She lives in Queens, just a subway ride away from Manhattan, and she dreams of the day when she will be as beautiful, glamorous, and grown-up as her mother, Beverly. Although life was not easy for her and her mother when she was growing up (Evie’s father left before she was born), everything has improved since Beverly married Joe Spooner. Now that Joe has returned home from World War II, the family has been living well off of Joe’s profitable appliance business.

The Joe that has returned from the war, however, is not entirely the same man who left. He is both more successful and more secretive, though Evie is too young to recognize the change. One night, after a mysterious phone call, he abruptly decides to take the family on a trip to Palm Beach. They leave the very next day, even though Evie is set to start school soon.

In Palm Beach, Evie meets Peter Coleridge, a young man so handsome he could be a movie star. She is immediately smitten. It turns out that Peter and Joe were part of the same company after the war; though Evie initially thinks this means they are friends, she soon recognizes the tension in their relationship. Still, Evie cannot resist Peter’s good looks and charm. The more she falls for him, the less obedient she is to her parents. But, having fallen so hard, can she see Peter for who he really is?

A terrible accident leaves Evie stunned and struggling to make sense of everything. She realizes that the people she trusts may not be so trustworthy, and that she must determine where her loyalties lie. Has she been blinded by love—both for her parents and for Peter? More importantly, will she lie to protect those she loves the most?

What I Saw and How I Lied aims for a cool, teen noir feel, and—for the most part—it succeeds. It has all the elements of any good noir: an endless maze of lies and deceit, encounters cloaked in a haze of cigarette smoke, and, of course, a gorgeous blonde femme fatale. Yet it also turns some tropes upside down. The femme fatale is not some anonymous, heartless woman, but Evie’s own mother. The streets aren’t just slicked with a persistent, gloomy rain, but washed away by a hurricane. And Evie herself, of course, is not some hardboiled detective, or even a knowing adult, but just a 15-year-old girl anxious to grow up but with no idea how to do it.

While the book is never quite as exciting or daring as it might be, and only occasionally hints at more stylized language (at one point Evie watches glances slide off her “like ugly was Vaseline, and I was coated with it”), it still manages to feel refreshingly different, even innovative. Transferring the noir elements to a teen story is a neat idea, and it actually dovetails nicely with the themes of first love and family loyalty that Evie is dealing with just like any other teenage girl. While it might not impress diehard fans of noir, it should entice teen readers looking for a dark, stylish mystery. It’s certainly rich with atmosphere, and engrossing enough to leave the reader wanting more.

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