Synopses & Reviews
A piercing, magical story about a life-altering friendship.
Toward the end of his life, H looks back on the relationship that has shaped and obsessed him for nearly a century. It began many years earlier at St. Oswald's, a dismal boarding school on the coast of England, where the young H came face-to-face with an almost unbearably beautiful boy living by himself at the edge of the sea.
At first, the mysterious Finn appears to have no past — his home is an ancient fisherman's hut with a woodstove, a case of books, striped blankets, and a cat.
H insinuates his way into Finn's life, stalking him with perfect patience until an unlikely friendship is kindled; a confused idyll of devotion and longing set against a background of blazing wood fires and fishing expeditions.
Their friendship deepens, offering H both the freedom and the human connection that has always eluded him. But in a world of conformity, can one eccentric idyll be allowed to survive?
"Former YA author Rosoff delivers an affecting buddy story about two adolescent boys in 1960s Britain. An unnamed man recounts his time as a disgruntled student at St. Oswald's boarding school; upon ditching an outdoor physical education class jog, he stumbles upon a mysterious fellow teen named Finn who lives alone and off the grid in a hut by the sea. The protagonist, enraptured by his newfound friend, makes it his business to spend as much time as possible with Finn, a major challenge considering school curfews and that the hut can only be accessed during low tide. Weeks go by and Finn falls ill, setting the stage for a surprising revelation that will dramatically transform both boys. Rosoff's unconventional coming-of-age tale is elegantly crafted, though some readers might be turned off by the narrator's unrelenting cynicism (particularly in his handling of another Oswald schoolboy), and the warning shots the narrator fires off about global warming are unnecessary. Nonetheless, Rosoff elegantly portrays how we often become who we need to be." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An extraordinary account of an obsessive friendship between a prep-school misfit and a beautiful orphan....Great Expectations meets Death in Venice in this visceral, intensely surprising tale from Rosoff." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Rosoff...creates a coming-of-age tale full of mystery and angst. Relying on a narrator looking back at his life, the reader is in for an intriguing read. Recommended." Library Journal
"Rosoff writes with startling acuity...this anguished story is sure to attract a crossover audience of older teens, as well as adults, who will appreciate Rosoff's questions about the nature of time, memory, and the events that become, over a life's arc, the defining moments." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] richly patterned work about secrets, what the tide hides and reveals and how an innocent crush can utterly change everything." People
"There is magic, power and mystery in the novel, without anyone ever waving a wand." San Francisco Chronicle
"What I Was shows us a more confident author whose poetry lies in her elegant, straightforward descriptions of human activity...instead of lurid embellishment....[A] beautifully crafted tale that seems, like its protagonist, both enduringly old and fluently new." Los Angeles Times
"[Rosoff's] portrayal of adolescent awakening is intimate and thoroughly persuasive." Boston Globe
Set in the 1960s at an English boarding school, this novel chronicles an unlikely friendship between two boys and a scandal that shatters the idyll that has shielded and nurtured their relationship.
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 and had careers in publishing and advertising before she moved to London in 1989, where she lives now with her husband and daughter.