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What I Was    by Meg Rosoff order for
What I Was
by Meg Rosoff
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Meg Rosoff's What I Was begins by portraying a miserable, middle class, sixteen-year-old boy serving time at an unpleasant British public boarding school, St. Oswald's in East Anglia, known for its 'long history and low standards' - after being expelled from two previous ones. The school is filled with 'chippy little fascists' enforcing inexplicable rules.

The the narrator - 'Picture a boy, small for his age, ears stuck at right angles to his head, hair the texture of straw and the color of mouse. Mouth: tight. Eyes: wary, alert' - shares a room with three other boys, Barrett, Gibbon and Reese - the first two typical bullies, and Reese the whipping boy who also hangs around the narrator and seems to want to be his friend. Then this middle-class boy 'of no particulat merit' meets Finn, 'the cat that walked by himself' living an enviable life totally under societal radar.

Finn lives in a cottage he took over from his grandmother on a small peninsula, accessible via a causeway for only a few hours every day. The narrator adulates Finn, who is everything he himself longs to be - 'He looked impossibly familiar, like a fantasy version of myself, with the face I had always hoped would look back at me from a mirror.' The 'almost unbearably beautiful' Finn, a confident and competent survivor, reluctantly tolerates - and often teaches - this intruder who seeks opportunities to spend more and more time with the boy he worships.

Of course, such meetings can't remain secret forever, and it's clear that all will not end well - but Meg Rosoff builds up to a dissolution of Finn's and the narrator's lifestyles that is both shocking and tragic, and raises all kinds of questions for both the book's characters and its readers. What I Was is a most unusual story that will stay with you long after closing the last page, and make you think.

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