All 15-year-old Evie Spooner wants to do is grow up. Fast. We first see her and her best friend, Margie Crotty, smoking candy cigarettes and talking about wearing lipstick. Her beautiful mother, Beverly, is all Evie wants to be when she grows up. “You couldn’t stop looking at her. She was a knockout. The way she held a cigarette, the way she danced in the kitchen, the way she could make supper with a cocktail glass in one hand --- that was movie star glamour. You could almost forget she was just a housewife from Queens.”
But Evie’s mother is overprotective. She still treats her like a child and doesn’t want her to dress like an adult, telling her that she shouldn’t be in such a hurry to grow up because “it’s not all polka dots and moonbeams.”
Evie’s stepfather, Joe, has just returned from the war and owns two thriving electronics stores. But something is brewing in the air of post-war happiness. Joe is drinking a lot and getting anonymous phone calls that make him angry and agitated. On the spur of the moment, he decides that the family should go on a late summer/early fall trip to Palm Beach, Florida.
Upon reaching their destination, they arrive in a ghost town. Most of the hotels and establishments are already closed for winter. They check into one of the only open ones, Le Mirage, where they befriend Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, a rich and glamorous couple from New York City. One night Evie dresses up in her mother’s clothes and shoes in an attempt to look older. Evie’s mother and Mrs. Grayson discover her secret dress up game and assist, then push her to join the high school dance taking place that night in the hotel ballroom. While at first thinking she’s glamorous, Evie finds herself feeling stupid and leaves the dance to go outside to the pool. There, she meets a movie-star gorgeous boy named Peter Coleridge. They dance, and Evie is immediately smitten.
It turns out that Peter isn’t exactly a stranger. He is an ex-GI who knew Joe from the war, and his presence at the hotel only agitates Joe further. But Evie is still smitten. The 21-year-old nicknames her “pussycat,” showering her with attention that she never has had from a boy, let alone a man.
However, things at Le Mirage are hardly as they seem. Evie overhears conversations and sees mysterious notes. Something is astray with the Graysons. Plus, Joe’s agitation over Peter’s presence becomes even clearer, and Beverly, Evie’s mother, is disappearing, taking long shopping trips on her own. Everything comes to a shocking halt involving tragedy and a web of lies unlike any other, and Evie finds herself smack dab in the middle of it, unsure of what to do or say.
WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED is told like a film noir mystery. The story unfolds in black and white coupled with the history and language of the 1940s. It’s the puzzle of the mysteries surrounding and entwining all the characters and of Evie’s own self-discovery. As the mysteries are unveiled, Evie learns that not everything is as it seems, and maybe she doesn’t care to be the girl she thought she wanted to be after all.
Winner of the 2008 National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category, WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED is an addictive read unlike any other. Evie’s character undergoes such a journey that the reader can truly feel her struggles and be there for her as she uncovers her own version of falling down the rabbit hole, like Alice in Wonderland.
Reviewed by Kristi Olson on January 1, 2010