What I Was: A Novel

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What I Was: A Novel

by Meg Rosoff

Penguin Publishing Group | December 30, 2008 | Trade Paperback

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Read Meg Rosoff''s posts on the Penguin Blog.

Finn was a beautiful orphan. H was a prep school misfit. On a September afternoon many years ago they met on a beach on the coast of England, near the ancient fisherman’s hut Finn was squatting in with his woodstove, a case of books, a striped blanket and a cat. H insinuates his way into Finn’s life—his blazing wood fires and fishing expeditions. Their friendship deepens, offering H the freedom and human connection that has always eluded him. But all too soon the idyll of their relationship is shaken by a heart-wrenching scandal.

What I Was is the unforgettable story of H at the end of his life looking back on this friendship, which has shaped and obsessed him for nearly a century.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 224 pages, 7.7 × 5 × 0.5 in

Published: December 30, 2008

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0452290236

ISBN - 13: 9780452290235

Found in: Fiction and Literature
Appropriate for ages: 13 - 17

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– More About This Product –

What I Was: A Novel

by Meg Rosoff

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 224 pages, 7.7 × 5 × 0.5 in

Published: December 30, 2008

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0452290236

ISBN - 13: 9780452290235

Read from the Book

The sound of Finn boiling water woke me at dawn. He wasn''t much for talking, especially at that hour, and wouldn''t answer any conversation I initiated. Like the hut, he warmed up slowly, and I had a feeling his habit of solitude had existed for so long that it surprised him every morning to find me asleep where his granny had once lain. It occurred to me that I had been at boarding school for a good many more years than Finn had lived alone, so perhaps my social skills were a little on the odd side as well. Whenever I was at home, I watched my mother chat brightly over breakfast the way an anthropologist might note typical social behaviour of the human species. I hated getting up in the cold, and slept buried up to my eyes in blankets, removing them only to wrap my hands around a warm cup of tea. Finn had added sugar to mine unprompted and I turned away to hide my flush of pleasure. I knew that if I waited in bed for him to build up the fire and perform his morning tasks, the hut would gradually fill with a kind of fuggy warmth, so I lay still, savouring the familiar sounds and postponing reentry into full consciousness for as long as possible. Nothing in my life so far compared with those first minutes of the day, half sitting in bed, still swaddled in warmth and with no imperative to move, just staring out of the window as the first pale streaks ignited the sky. I watched boats chug slowly past the windows: fishing boats returning from a long night of work, sailing boats
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From the Publisher

Read Meg Rosoff''s posts on the Penguin Blog.

Finn was a beautiful orphan. H was a prep school misfit. On a September afternoon many years ago they met on a beach on the coast of England, near the ancient fisherman’s hut Finn was squatting in with his woodstove, a case of books, a striped blanket and a cat. H insinuates his way into Finn’s life—his blazing wood fires and fishing expeditions. Their friendship deepens, offering H the freedom and human connection that has always eluded him. But all too soon the idyll of their relationship is shaken by a heart-wrenching scandal.

What I Was is the unforgettable story of H at the end of his life looking back on this friendship, which has shaped and obsessed him for nearly a century.

About the Author

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, USA. She has worked in publishing, public relations and most recently advertising, but thinks the best job in the world would be head gardener for Regents Park. Meg lives in Highbury, North London. She is the author of Just in Case, What I Was and How I Live Now.

Editorial Reviews

"A richly patterned work about secrets...how an innocent crush can utterly change everything."
-People (four stars)

"[A] beautifully crafted tale that seems, like its protagonist, both enduringly old and fluently new."
-Los Angeles Times

"This whole novel is built on a surprise...beyond the surprise lies the beauty of what it means to live without junk in your life, and the reminder that all of it-the junk and the beauty-will be gone in a twinkling. This is a lovely book."
-The Washington Post

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTION
In the mid-twenty-first century, an elderly man named Hilary looks back through the decades to his days at St. Oswald’s, a dreary English boarding school. Though the school and much of the coastline around it have since slipped into the sea, Hilary’s memories of that time and place are vivid. A low-achiever kicked out of two previous schools, Hilary suspected that St. Oswald’s, like the others, would offer nothing more than bourgeois manners and gory lessons from the Dark Ages. Surviving its rigid routines and joyless days would be a matter of will. When he encounters a strange young boy named Finn, however, everything changes. Hilary is immediately fascinated with Finn’s solo life in an ancient hut by the sea, free of rules, family obligations and the indignities Hilary routinely suffers at the hands of his schoolmates. Finn is not just free—he is practically living in another era. He fishes and kayaks, reads history books, and cooks his own meals. Finn, who has no hospital or school records, does not exist to the rest of the world. To Hilary, he is the center of the universe.

The two boys develop an unusual friendship, with Hilary risking his school career to sneak away to Finn’s hut whenever possible. Hilary does everything he can to protect his secret life, even when it means hurting the one schoolmate who seems to like him. In his refuge from St. Oswald’s, he learns survival skills, and for the first time, the adult responsibilities that come with caring about someone else.

Precarious as the coastline itself, Hilary’s fantasy world cannot last. His lies to teachers and students eventually catch up with him. The vast differences between Hilary and Finn—less perceptible in the hut than in the outside world—ultimately tear them apart.

Meg Rosoff’s third novel enchants readers with its lyrical prose, engaging storytelling, and profound insight. An astute observer of the human heart, Rosoff captures the rush and the cruelty of adolescent desire and the imprint it leaves on a person. What I Was is an unusual coming-of-age story that examines the fluidity of identity and the ways in which people consciously redefine themselves in the face of love.

 


ABOUT MEG ROSOFF

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston and moved to London in 1989, where she lives now with her husband and daughter. Formerly a YA author, Meg has earned numerous prizes, including the highest American and British honors for YA fiction: the Michael L. Printz Award and the Carnegie Medal. A movie based on her first novel, How I Live Now, is in development with Passion Pictures.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Hilary participates in a bet with his classmates that he won’t last three terms at St. Oswald’s school. What distinguishes him from the other boys at St. Oswald’s and what keeps him from fitting in?
     
  • Hilary’s world at boarding school is confining, cold, and at times, brutal. Finn’s world, despite its physical dangers and harsh economic reality, seems liberating to Hilary. Is he romanticizing Finn’s life or is Finn’s life truly freer?
     
  • On first glimpse, Hilary is struck immediately by the mysterious figure of Finn on the beach and describes the vision as looking into the mirror at someone he’d always hoped to be. What does Finn represent to Hilary and how is it different from Hilary’s own image of himself? How are they similar?
     
  • As the older Hilary looks back on his life, he evokes an image of himself that is at once sharply insightful, darkly cynical, and, at times, naïve. What are some of his blind spots? What does he see as an adult that he could not see as a teenager?
     
  • The reader has little access to Finn’s thoughts throughout the novel. What do you think Finn gets out of his relationship with Hilary?
     
  • From Hilary’s perspective, formal schooling is mostly useless and serves only to cement students’ social status and privileges. Finn, on the other hand, is self-taught. What sort of education does Hilary get from his adventures with Finn?
     
  • Hilary often complains about the constant and needy presence of his schoolmate Reese. What is Reese’s role in this story? What, if anything, does he teach Hilary?
     
  • Hilary is interested in the history of the land and the book is strewn with descriptions of the changing coastline and tides. What is the significance of these passages? How does Hilary’s idea of history change over time?
     
  • At the book’s climax, Finn reveals that he’s not who Hilary thought he was. Was Hilary responsible for failing to see the real Finn? Would Hilary have been as infatuated with Finn had he known the truth all along?
     
  • Hilary is ultimately found not guilty of any crimes. Is he guilty of any moral offenses? Or are the events of the novel simply a result of him being confused and young?
     
  • Hilary is consumed with the desire to be Finn, and little-by-little he transforms himself in Finn’s image. To what extent is identity shaped by close relationships like these? Has Hilary’s identity changed by the end of the story?
  • Appropriate for ages: 13 - 17