This Christmas I asked my European dwelling sister to give me a copy of Meg Rosoff's latest book, What I Was (this is the British cover). I didn't want to wait for it to come out here in the states (although it is now available, so perhaps I should have been more judicious in my selection, but my other sister was already getting a copy of Forever Rose, by Hilary McKay which I actually was looking forward to even more). Rosoff's first book for teenagers, How I Live Now, had interested me but not compelled me, but I truly enjoyed Just In Case. So I began What I Was in a hopeful spirit.
The story is simple--Hilary, a 16 year old boy, begins life at his third boarding school, having been kicked out of two others. It is a depressing place with depressing people in it, including our narrator, who is not particurlaly cheeful about his situation (with reason). But he finds an escape while exploring the Suffolk coast where his school is situatuated--a cottage on an island, whose young resident, Finn, is resourceful, independent, and totally enigmatic. They strike up a friendship, based mainly on Hilary's fascination with Finn--an almost obsessive desire to be inside the self-relient mystery that is Finn's life. But it is impossible to keep secrets in a boarding school, and (this is Meg Rosoff after all) things fall apart tragically and spectacularly, atlhough they end up getting back together again, more or less.
Unlike her other books, however, things don't really start Happening till near the end. I got impatient with Hilary, and wasn't as interested in Finn as he was. The buildup in pace came a bit too late for me to care all that much. So all in all, a bit disappointing. But the fault could be mine- this was one of those books that made me wonder if I was Trying hard enough to be an engaged and critically appreciative reader. Because I think there is a lot to appreciate here, in Rosoff's use of language and setting. It just wasn't my cup of tea.
The American edition is published by Viking Adult, but I think it is comfortably a YA book -- teenaged narrator, nothing graphic in an Adultish way (although that dosen't apply to many YA books), and a plot concerned with self-knowledge, friendship, and growing up.