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Summary and book reviews of What I Was by Meg Rosoff

What I Was

by Meg Rosoff

What I Was
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2008, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2009, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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About this Book

Book Summary

An unusual coming-of-age story that examines the fluidity of identity and the ways in which people consciously redefine themselves in the face of love.

In the not too distant future, a one-hundred-year-old man called H sails the eastern coast of England with his godson. H recalls when he himself was sixteen—his godson’s age—as they search for the site of H’s life-altering friendship with a boy named Finn. Finn lives alone on an isolated slip of land and follows no rules: he spends his days swimming, fishing, and collecting driftwood for his tiny beach hut. H, on the other hand, is an upper-class boarding school boy stifled by monotony and endless rules. They meet by chance on the beach, and H is immediately awed by (and jealous of) Finn’s way of life. They strike up an unlikely friendship but the gap between their lives becomes difficult to bridge, and before long the idyll that nurtured their relationship is shattered by heart-wrenching scandal.

Meg Rosoff was formerly a YA author, but her work transcends categorization and we are delighted to bring it to adult readers for the first time. What I Was is a timeless, enthralling story destined to become a classic.

ONE

Rule number one: Trust no one.

By the time we reached St. Oswald's, fog had completely smothered the coast. Even this far inland, the mist was impenetrable; our white headlights merely illuminated the fact that we couldn't see. Hunched over the wheel, father edged the car forward a few feet at a time. We might have driven off England and into the sea if not for a boy waving a torch in bored zigzags by the school entrance.

Father came to a halt in front of the main hall, set the brake, pulled my bag out of the boot, and turned to me in what he probably imagined was a soldierly manner. "Well," he said, "this is it."

This is what? I stared at the gloomy Victorian building and imagined those same words used by fathers sending their sons off into hopeless battle, up treacherous mountains, across the Russian steppes. They seemed particularly inappropriate here. All I could see was a depressed institution of secondary education ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book

In the mid-twenty-first century, an elderly man named Hilary looks back through the decades to his days at St. Oswald's, a dreary English boarding school. Though the school and much of the coastline around it have since slipped into the sea, Hilary's memories of that time and place are vivid. A low-achiever kicked out of two previous schools, Hilary suspected that St. Oswald's, like the others, would offer nothing more than bourgeois manners and gory lessons from the Dark Ages. Surviving its rigid routines and joyless days would be a matter of will. When he encounters a strange young boy named Finn, however, everything changes. Hilary is immediately fascinated with Finn's solo life in an ancient hut by ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The treat of the book is Rosoff’s beautiful and mythically charged setting. Her lush prose paints the craggy rocks and crashing sea surrounding Finn’s fairy-tale-like shack and the bone-aching chill of the damp winds with unforgettable detail. However, her stellar prose makes the book all the more disappointing, as it sets the reader up to expect greatness through-and-through. While the three star rating indicates "average", Rosoff's talents are anything but, so if you're a newcomer, start with How I Live Now to experience the full breadth of her fiction.   (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).

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Media Reviews
Times (UK) - Amanda Craig

Despite its deliciously ironic tone, What I Was is a melancholy book, suffused with a distinctly middle-aged person’s awareness of time lost .... The kind of reader who adores Rumer Godden, Dodie Smith and K. M. Peyton will ... respond to the story of someone who has, as he says in the end, been "starved at an early age –" not of food, but of love and affection. Teenagers always feel like this, however. They do not believe they are loved any more than they believe they are beautiful, clever or ridiculously glum. They will, of course, find out.

Library Journal - Robin Nesbitt

Rosoff, the Printz Award-winning author of How I Live Now, creates a coming-of-age tale full of mystery and angst. Relying on a narrator looking back at his life, the reader is in for an intriguing read.

Publishers Weekly

Rosoff's unconventional coming-of-age tale is elegantly crafted, though some readers might be turned off by the narrator's unrelenting cynicism ...Nonetheless, Rosoff elegantly portrays how we often become who we need to be.

Kirkus Reviews

Great Expectations meets Death in Venice in this visceral, intensely surprising tale from Rosoff.

The Guardian - Philip Ardagh

As you would expect from Rosoff, the writing is thoughtful and insightful but, at times, the voice and actions don't quite ring true.

Sunday Times

It makes us fall in love not only with Finn but also with the Suffolk coast, the land, the sky and the sea passionately described in airy and crystalline prose. It's already a classic.'

Time Out London

Every bit as compelling and all-encompassing as the multi-award-winning How I Live Now and Just In Case (for which she picked up this year's Carnegie Medal), What I Was is another coming-of-age novel which sucks the reader whole into its universe.

Reader Reviews
marley

a big let down
The reader is built up so much for nothing. The book literally "wraps up" in like 2 or three pages, with vague comments from the older version of the main character. I don't mind books with sad and open ending but gee whiz you got to give ...   Read More

Stephanie Lennox

Uhm...
Has everyone gone insane? This book is expertly written, I will admit...but hardly as wonderful as everyone makes out. There is so much that is left unexplained, leaving nothing but disappointment in the eyes of any reader. I don't even understand ...   Read More

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Useful to Know

If you read interviews and blogs about Meg Rosoff you may find references to a book called The Dark Ages. This was the title that she first gave to her story about H and Finn, but which she later renamed What I Was.


What I Was was published as a young adult title in the UK in summer 2007, but was positioned as a book for adults in the USA - an interesting situation for an ...

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