I was hella nervous heading into this book because what smit me most about How I Live Now was the narrator, who seemed Tailor-Made For Raych’s Delight, but that’s not a style you can carry over unless you sequelize it, which is not something I’d wish on such a fantastic and enigmatically complete book. (In my heart of hearts I would read that sequel in a red hot minute). I knew I wouldn’t love WIW qualitatively as much, but I hoped to love it quantitatively.
Alllllllmost, you guys. Almost. What I Was is similarly surprising and fantastic and weird, if not The Book I Wish I’d Written If My Fiction Wasn’t So Terrible, Which It Is. Ok so. Our unnamed (for the most part) narrator (henceforth Narry) is on his third boarding school because he sucks at being the good child. It’s sort of wretched in the way that those schools are always sort of wretched, with the teasing and the scratchy sweaters and the food that seems to have given up.
And then Narry discovers a boy living in a hut on the beach, sans adults. What sport! Except that Finn would never say ‘what sport,’ he would just look at you bemusedly out of his large, fathomless eyes and then go back to fishing or brewing tea or whatever else domestic task it requires to remain adultless and alive in a hut on the beach.
And then almost the rest of the story is Narry slipping away to meet Finn and them existing in the same space and for a while there I thought Oho, I know where you’re going with this. Bold choice, Rosoff! But then TWIST and that’s not what happens at all. Something Completely Else goes down, and I did not see it coming.
Rosoff is one of those rare authors who’ll leave off a book on the very nearest edge of The End. This is like the reverse of epilogues, which often take you to the furthest reaches of where you wanted to be involved in the story, and then drag you by your hair for another few miles. In all (both) of Rosoff’s books I’ve read, she flicks the strings at you so that you have the loose ends, but she leaves you to tie them up yourself while she goes off to have a sandwich. And I love that so much I want to put a ring on it.
This is YA that does not pander. This is YA that will be taught in schools later and then kids will hate it because it’s assigned and adults will sigh because curriculum ruins everything and then one kid’s mind will secretly be blown and it will all have been worth it. It’s not How I Live Now, but that’s not it’s fault and I think it’s objectively as good a book, if not a better.
The caterpillars are, however, highly subjective, and they are my bitches. Eight caterpillars.