Bronwen Fraser reviews Meg Rosoff’s ‘What I Was’

24 Apr

'What I Was' cover image

Set in 1962 on the coast of East Anglia, ‘What I Was’ is told in the voice of Hilary, a sixteen-year-old schoolboy, as he arrives at a grim, gloomy boarding school called St Oswald’s. Hilary dislikes study and sport, teachers and pupils, and finds school life unbearable. But one day he meets Finn, a mysterious boy who lives alone in a fisherman’s hut on a small island. Drawn to Finn and his simple, nomadic way of life, Hilary builds a remarkable relationship.

This is a very compelling and mysterious read, even though there is not a great deal of action. But the setting and characters are so vivid, and you get to know them as the book progresses. The book draws you right into the atmosphere of the seaside setting, the subtle way the relationship develops between the two main characters and the secrecy in which they have to meet. I loved the descriptions of the fisherman’s hut and the constantly changing sea, which is like a strong force and atmospheric presence. It is a fascinating and thought-provoking read and has a very moving ending. I would highly recommend it to both boys and girls aged 12+.

Meg Rosoff is appearing at the Queen’s Hall, Hexham at 10.30am and 1.30pm, Monday 30th April as part of the 2012 Hexham Book Festival. She will also be running a workshop on ‘Finding a Voice’ at the Beaumont Hotel from 10am – 12 noon, Tuesday 1st May. Tickets for both events are available from the Hexham Book Festival website.

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