WHAT I WAS by Meg Rosoff
Kirkus Star


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An extraordinary account of an obsessive friendship between a prep-school misfit and a beautiful orphan.

As the book opens, the 16-year-old narrator—unnamed until the final pages—is entering his third prep school in as many years. The latest, St. Oswald’s School for Boys, on an isolated coast of England, practices a bracing rigidity that forbids heat and buttons on clothing, amongst other things. The narrator shows his disdain for the rules with apathy rather than rebellion, until the day he meets Finn on a nearby beach. The narrator is immediately intrigued by the quiet boy with impossibly perfect, delicate features, particularly when he learns that since his grandmother died four years earlier, Finn has lived autonomously in a hut on the beach. With no birth registration or immediate family, it has been easy for Finn to slip under the radar, avoiding school and society in general. The narrator’s interest turns to infatuation, and soon he is sneaking out of the school to visit Finn every chance he gets, including hatching an elaborate lie that allows him to spend an entire school holiday at Finn’s hut. The only stumbling block is his roommate, Reese, whose own homoerotic tendencies implore him to find out more. But the narrator’s carefully constructed world crumbles when St. Oswald’s goes under quarantine for glandular fever, and he passes the disease along to his secret friend. Though he tries to nurse Finn back to health, the strain becomes too much, and on a devastating night, one that implicates Reese as well, the narrator is forced to unite his two worlds, and learns that mysterious Finn has been harboring a secret of his own. Rosoff’s voice is clear and her story is simple, but with it she delivers a profound amalgamation of deeper themes.

Great Expectations meets Death in Venice in this visceral, intensely surprising tale from Rosoff (Just in Case, 2006, etc.).

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-670-01844-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2007


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