What I Was
Meg Rosoff

The year is 1962. The recalcitrant hero had been kicked out of two boarding schools and the last thing he wanted was to be here on the East Anglian coast in a third. But without St Oswald's, he would not have discovered the fisherman's hut with its roaring fire, its striped blankets, its sea monster stew. Without St Oswald's, he would not have met the boy with the beautiful eyes, the flickering half-smile and no past. Without St Oswalds he would not have met Finn. And without Finn there would be no story. Shall we begin?

"Every bit as compelling and all-encompassing as the multi-award-winning How I Live Now and Just In Case, What I Was is another coming-of-age novel which sucks the reader whole into its universe." Time Out

"Meg Rosoff is one of a handful of gifted writers to have seized adolescence as a territory worthy of respect. [Her books] are mordantly funny and searingly well written, they read like Samuel Beckett on Ecstasy." The Times
Adéle , from The Henrietta Barnett School London

What I Was is about a boy discarded by his family, in St. Oswald School. He finds a friend called Finn and as the story goes on their friendship develops. 


It reminded me of another book similar to this where a boy left his parents and met someone on an island. They became friends and then were separated. This book was called Kensuke’s Kingdom. What I Was was written more grown-up but as the story lines were similar, I already knew what would happen. However, if you hadn’t read this story, then there was nothing that was noticeably bad.


I thought this was a good book. Even though I have heard a younger version, I know that if I hadn’t, I would have loved the book. The language was within my range of knowledge but still stretched my vocab.


Ami, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

The story What I was is about a boy who has been kicked out of two boarding schools. He doesn’t think he is going to do any better when he arrives at his third, ‘St Oswald’s’. The book was written in the first person, making a huge impact on the story, as we don’t find out the name of the boy until the end.  As he doesn’t have passion for school, he makes no friends at first, and just sits quietly in class. The teachers are not fussed about him, and say to his father that he has settled in fine. There are three students mentioned in the story, Reese, Gibbon and Barrett. Gibbon and Barrett tease him and seem to suspect him throughout the story. Reese just hangs around him and thinks he is his friend. This is the opening of the story; I thought that it was neither dull nor exciting, but rather slow. It could be a little more improved to catch the reader’s eye.


The story carries on as the boy is sitting on the beach after lessons, and another boy (not from St Oswald’s) asks him what he is doing on the beach, as all the other boys had gone back to class. The character feels that this boy, questioning him with an unfriendly tone, is familiar and like himself, he feels sudden warmth towards him and apologises. They both stare at each other, including the cat, when the character asks for a drink. He is led into a hut, which is described as ‘flattened, nearly colourless rugs covered rough pine boards, and the chipped remnants of a once-fine china sat neatly on wooden shelves in the kitchen. Two smallish windows opened onto the sweeping views of the sea.’ As the character keeps describing the hut as he has the tea, we almost feel from the description that we know what the boy is like. “Do you live alone”? the character asks the boy who lives in the hut and then tells us he didn’t welcome questions and instead talks about St Oswald’s. Then our character asks the very quiet boy’s name. His name is Finn. Our character really begins to like Finn and wants to be great friends, but Finn makes no conversation. The story started to become more alluring....


The whole story seemed to cover a term at St Oswald’s.  I though it was an unusual story, not adventurous, with no meaning; yet, it told a story that was fascinating. How the characters felt and behaved did not need to be described in depth, as we could tell by the dialogue what the main character was thinking and we know some of Finn’s characteristics by his responses. I think the writer wanted to tell this story because a similar situation may have happened to her in real life, or the author thought that there was a meaning to this story. It was a very surprising story. I think that the setting was not that well described, it was an unusual setting for the story. The book made me feel like laughing, because it was quite original and it made me think that people can lie, when you least expect them to. I think it is important to say that the book was very creative and I can see that it was full of surprises. Overall, I would not recommend the book, since I feel that it didn’t keep me enthusiastic to read on at all times during the story, yet, I feel that she is very imaginative and I would give another chance to reading one of Meg Rosoff’s other books.


Arian, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

This is a story of a hundred-year-old man recalling his life when he was 16 years old “the year I discovered love”. This boy went to an upper class boarding school (his third school) and by chance he meets a boy who lives in a tiny beach hut owned previously by his grandmother. They become unlikely friends, but soon the friendship was getting difficult to cover up.


Meg Rosoff’s descriptive writing allows the reader to really sense the obsession over Finn. The unexpected was a wonderful twist (although for some it may not be unexpected at all). It is quite sad that their harmless friendship was mistaken for something more by the adults. It was a very emotional book with clear descriptions of the narrator’s feelings and passions. This is a book full of poetic writing and a clever plot which twists in many ways. One of the good aspects was that all the loose ends were tied up neatly and that the book was closed in a good manner.

Ava, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

This story, so compellingly laced with heart-wrenching emotion, love first, sadness next, was most destined to leave the pages of this book tear-stained if it had not been for the fact that the book was not my own property.


Written with a sense of modest comedy, the story weaves the life of a young boy, 16 years of age and with a name that is blatantly unnecessary (or at least, that’s what he says), who suffers the deepest misfortune in having to be alive during a time when such boys’ lives were under siege by the 1960s’ dreadful education system.


The very school which the boy attends, St. Oswald’s, upholds this horrible education system, which includes lengthy jogs outside during all sorts of weather. St. Oswald’s is near a beach, which is in turn near a throttling, near-mad sea. In the weather-proof mind of the Headmaster of the school, the beach presents an excellent jogging opportunity, ‘salt air contributes to strong lungs and clear minds.’


It is during one of these long sea-side jogs that, spotted in the hut with the smoke and the dreamy existence, the boy discovers love. The boy meets Finn.


This whole book is a tumult of heavy emotion. I was so soaked up by the book that at each moment of panic, at each moment of delight, I myself felt panicked,  just as easily delighted.


With a large variety of books, the readers can often find themselves becoming friendly and familiar with the main character. However, with this book, the author goes a whole step further by telling the story from the point of view of the boy. By writing in first person, she makes it so very easy to associate oneself with the boy’s experiences, as if they are our own. Besides, is it not true that in everybody’s lives, there are bullies and monsters that you are forced to live alongside; or bits of school, if not all of school, that you are destined to hate? Is it not true that in everybody’s mind resides a small secret world, protected from these outside cruelties, where we can love and be loved, and in which all is so perfectly assembled, as a paradise?


And what if that hidden secret of a world were to appear in reality? Such is the writing in this story, so comforting is Rosoff’s style, that when for the boy his secret paradise did indeed become reality, I was just as quietly delighted as the boy was. As the boy fell in love with Finn, I did too. It was not hard to.


This book was fiction, but it lived in my mind’s eye with every tiny rule of reality perfectly in place, right up from basic methods of time keeping, down to the most boring and unfortunate of school rules, ‘Without [Finn’s] presence to blind me, it suddenly mattered that I might be in trouble again.’ Also, when the boy decides that he would like to spend the holidays with Finn, he ‘forged a letter from Clifton-Mogg informing my parents that I would be staying at school during the break, and another to Clifton-Mogg from my parents with permission to return home by train. I had found something of a talent for forgery.’ So, as shown, realistic obstacles are dealt with well.



Chloe, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

An old man reminiscing about his days as a sixteen-year-old at St Oswald's boarding school for boys tells this story. It is his third boarding school and he has low expectations for his happiness. This all changes when he meets Finn who lives by himself in a shack on the beach near St Oswald's. He is everything the main character aspires to be and provides a refuge for him from St Oswald's. The story focuses on their relationship, which ends with an unexpected twist.


The storyline was not particularly engaging and although the twist came as a surprise it did not seem appropriate or to relate to the rest of the story.

Daniel, from University College School London


This book follows the story of Scheherazade who feels out of place in his cruel, 1960s-style boarding school. After he is kicked out of two boarding schools he arrives in St. Oswald’s in East Anglia, where he soon discovers friendship, and then love.


The boy seems to have few friends and to loathe his studies, he finds he is bored, frustrated and moody. But one day, as he ventures away from his group during a seaside run, he curiously discovers a lone fisherman’s hut on the waterfront. Here, he meets Finn. The young man becomes completely in awe of Finn and how independent he is. He begins to visit Finn regularly and admires how quiet and charismatic he is. Slowly, Meg Rosoff’s brilliant story-telling begins to lull the reader into a state where the transition from the boy’s complete appreciation of Finn’s existence to when it slowly turns to love goes very lightly.


The boy begins to miss school and holidays to spend time with Finn. We follow their adventures which Scheherazade seems to enjoy so much as he is mystified and fascinated by Finn’s every action.


This book is set around St. Oswald’s School on a salty marsh in East Anglia. I think this is an excellent setting as the stormy weather and beautiful landscape full of cliffs and water feel like the author’s way of using pathetic-fallacy to illustrate the speaker’s emotion.


I began to like the character of Scheherazade. His witty humour and outlook on his life, which seems at times depressing, shows how positive he is. I also liked Finn, I too admired his understated wisdom and bravery to be so self-sufficient and brave without becoming lonely. He seems like an incredibly capable person who holds a lot of knowledge and has a quiet, comforting aura.  


I enjoyed the majority of the book and found myself touched by the emotions Scheherazade displayed and by how he handled his uncertain relationship with Finn. I loved the mild humour and matter-of-fact dialogue and the various other people Scheherazade meets.  The only part of the book I did not enjoy was the ending, which I found rushed and confusing. It disappointed me when I would have liked to have read more about the circumstances that surrounded the end.


Eniola, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

Set in East Anglia in 1962, a story of love and secrecy, this book is both enthralling and gripping with a touch of sensitivity. The story is about a sixteen-year-old boy. The author developed an air of mystery surrounding his character by not revealing his name until the end of the book which I think will have kept other readers curious about the character as it did for me.


We find out that [the narrator] has been expelled from two other boarding schools already and the beginning of the book sees his cynicism about his new boarding school - St. Oswald's. He struggles in school to fit in, stay out of trouble and do well in his studies and he becomes an outcast amongst his peers and also his three roommates - Gibbon and Barrett and also Reese, whose social standing in school is quite low at that point....


The fact that Reese is steadily becoming an outcast drives him to become needy and sneaky so he begins to follow [the narrator] and soon sees that the consequences of [the narrator] being an outcast and enduring common taunts from his peers drives him into the arms of Finn, living alone in a hut by the sea....


Finn and [the narrator] become friends, and confide in each other, Finn about his mother who had abandoned him when he was young, leaving him with his Grandmother who was now dead and consequently leaving him abandoned once more; and [the narrator] about his views concerning boarding schools and St. Oswald's. We see Finn and his relationship stretch beyond friendship ...


The end of the book journeys back to the present day where the 100-year-old man is reminiscing and retelling the days of 1962 as a sixteen-year-old boy ...


I think that the structure of the book, being written as an account of a reminiscing old man writing about the days when he was young and found love, builds up excitement and leaves the reader hanging onto every paragraph, sentence and word until the very end of the book. This as a marvelous and detailed story resulting in an excellent and beautiful book.


Georgia , from The Henrietta Barnett School London

What I Was is a narrative by an old man recalling the year he discovered love. The story is set in the sixties, when he started a third boarding school and met a boy called Finn who lived nearby. This will be a hard review to write since the narrator is never named. 


Finn is actually the central character of the book, because since the book is in first person, he is the main object of description. Finn is always described with an air of admiration, which mainly originates from [the narrator’s] longing to be more like Finn. Likewise, he often compares himself to Finn, noticing similarities and differences, as well as enabling the reader to notice them and make their own judgements. For example "He looked impossibly familiar, like a fantasy version of myself, with the face I always hoped would look back at me from a mirror." This is an example of both the boy's admiration for Finn, but also the obvious comparison.


While on characters, I will mention the interesting relationship between [the narrator] and Finn. Though he describes the experience as "The year I discovered love", he never hesitates to mention that he was not in love with Finn, and merely had high respect for him. Finn and [the narrator’s] respective personalities, along with the fact that the book fails to show Finn's views, often make it appear that the boy likes Finn more than Finn likes him. Later, however, it is revealed that the affections go vice versa, and Finn has a lot of hidden emotions towards [the narrator].


I found that the use of adjectives was very well done, and was also very classified (as in 'in divided classes', not secretive). While at school, there are only a few descriptions, all of which reflect a miserable, melancholy, bored and generally negative atmosphere. While with Finn, however, [the narrator] starts using phrases that describe everything as though it is wonderful, with everything seeming like part of some beautiful dream. This really reflects his feelings towards Finn, and the mood boost when they are together. For instance, an early description of his school (St Oswald's) includes the phrase "fog had completely smothered the coast", which shows a dull, grey, boring atmosphere. The reference to smothering shows his hatred towards the school, and how the rules burden him. On the other hand, the opening description of Finn includes "He was almost unbearably beautiful", after a long paragraph of metaphors.


A large proportion of the book is focused around the fact that [the narrator] is discovering his inner child (being sixteen, so a teenager rather than a little boy). A lot of it is just a childlike fantasy, with him just wanting to be like Finn, which results in him stalking Finn. Because of this, along with various other plot revelation and sequences, an irritatingly large amount of the book is focused around whether his desires towards Finn are sexual or just about a very strong friendship, and a lot of admiration. When, after an exciting but predictable twist, his affection towards Finn is misinterpreted, the main character argues about the orientation of his affections, [and] it becomes apparent how easily this story, and indeed people, can be misunderstood. I though this was interesting because it starts to question the reader’s views on relationships and emotions. Though a risky manoeuvre, I thought it gave an interesting opinion, though others may disagree.


All things considered, I think that this book is best suited for teenage girls, even though it is about a boy. I enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it, but despite liking it, I do not wish to read one of the same nature.

Joshua, from University College School London

The book is set in a dreary, classic English boarding school. The book is about a boy called Finn and a boy he meets in a P.E lesson one day inside a random hut. To be honest the book was one of the weirdest and most boring things I have ever read. But when I looked on the weRead website to check other people’s opinions, I was shocked to find that most of the reviews were positive! All I can say before I begin my rant is sorry Ms. Rosoff!


The general opinion of this book on the weRead website is that the book is humorous, historical, romantic and moving. All I can say is no it is not. The book was frankly a disappointment, even though I had bad thoughts just about the front cover! I just couldn’t understand the point of the book! No action, no adventure, nothing to make the heart race with excitement and little or no violence (which to be honest, I think is almost essential in a book!). The book is definitely written for girls, but whoever heard of a book about a private boarding school (partly) starring a boy, looking for love (kind of), in a girl? The book just ties my brain in knots! I just can’t get my head around it!!!


Now this may sound harsh, but how did this book ever get short-listed for the Costa Book Awards AND the Clip Carnegie Medal 2008? The book is as dull as looking at a grey wall for the duration of reading the book!


In conclusion I think that the book deserves no prizes and I think that the highest rating it’s gonna get is 3/10!!! 

Joshua, from University College School London

What I was is a story of a boy who isn’t the ‘coolest’ and has been kicked out of many schools  at his new school. At the beach he meets a boy who lives in the hut by the sea. He (Finn) lives the life that he has always dreamed of living, by himself, and he does what he wants to do. After a while they become better and better friends and at the very end is a very dramatic twist which no-one could anticipate, and that shocked me. Before this I’d already read a book by Meg called How I Live Now, which my mum had recommended for me, I didn’t really like it as it was too old for me so when I saw this book I’d decided that I could give it a second chance. I thought it was better compared to what I thought of the other book when I’d read it, I wouldn’t call it a brilliant masterpiece [or] the best book I’d ever read. I would call it a great piece of fiction, it wasn’t really my type.


There are some very comical moments. particularly the end, which I won’t reveal. There are also some very sad and serious scenes: there is one very moving scene at the end again! I would give this book a 11/15; it is worth reading. but only if you have it already. I would recommend this book for people in-between the ages of 13-16; it is not a little kids’ book!


I would give the ending 10/10. I think it is a brilliant piece of work and that Is a masterpiece. So to conclude. I think this is a good book, sad it is a hard read and not light; but make sure you read it.

Kasia, from Hampstead School London


It is a rare moment for me to find myself truly gripped by a book. Most of the books I read are enjoyable, but sometimes the writers lack that extra spark of talent. As I read the books in this competition, words such as satisfactory, fine and predictable sprang into my mind as I turned the pages. Some were page-turners that lacked depth while others were emotional but I knew what would happen next. The truth is that the majority of the books were satisfactory, fine and predictable. All except one. The one that shone out from all the rest. The one that truly gripped me.


I read my first Meg Rosoff when I was about 10 and was stunned by her talent and excellent writing. Later, when I was in year 7, I tried to read her second book, Just in Case. I found it a bit too strange and hard to interpret, so I didn’t finish it. So, when I discovered that her new book, What I was, had been released I was apprehensive. As well as that, my friends who were reading it were not convinced and found it uninteresting. So I was very surprised to find myself devouring page after page of this book. Its beautifully sculpted sentences and moving characters enabled the book to flow.


Rosoff’s cleverly unidentified protagonist was a clear reflection of the restricted English middle class in the 1960s. Considered a failure by his sour parents, Rosoff’s main character is sent to a public school on the east coast of England. Here, he discovers his “first love” Finn, peaceful and tranquil, portraying diversity under the surface of the norm. Finn lives a life of freedom, which intoxicates the boy.


As the curious relationship between the two is gradually crafted, the reader begins to realise how fragile the relationship is. However, miraculously, our male main character creates a way for him to visit Finn, at his expense. His school life is already as precarious as the friendship. Rosoff masterfully threads a sense of security and warmth around the two, which is not only convincing but powerful. The silent love between them is emotional and deep.


The narrator is shocked to discover Finn, apparently dangerously bleeding. This shock is so powerful and overwhelming that its effect on the protagonist makes him unaware of his surroundings and people. The reader sees through the eyes of a young lost soul, whose vision is blurred due to trauma.


This cutting-edge twist leaves our narrator broken and abandoned by his family and friend. This beautiful novel is about the poignant feelings of adolescence and the rawness of a time now buried in the past. I was moved, shocked and gripped as the author guided me through her story.


So it was when reading this novel that I felt truly gripped by that extra spark of talent. In my opinion, Rosoff is a rare and gifted writer of our time. 


Meera, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

This book was set in the past, in the twentieth century. It is about a sixteen-year-old boy. He is a very lazy boy and has been expelled from two boarding schools. He meets a boy called Finn who lives near his school and his life changes immediately.


My favourite character in this book was definitely Finn. I thought he was very unusual and secretive, which gave the book a lot of suspense. I was continuously hoping he would say something ..., as I really wanted to know what was going on inside his head. This made me really interested when he did speak.


I thought this book had lots of different genres, which is one of the reasons I liked it. There was a lot of history involved, there was fiction and there was some humour too.


The author did not tell us what [the boy’s] name was right till the end which I thought was a good idea as I kept wondering why he was so ashamed of it until I found out what it was.


My favourite part was near the end when Finn was sick and you finally found out his big secret. I had guessed it before but it was still surprising as it was a very good twist.


I didn’t think the ending was very good because I thought it skipped out loads of their lives and skipped right to the end. This book was really well written until the end, I think it was a very disappointing finish to such a good book.




Oscar, from University College School London

What I Was is set in Norfolk in 1962 where a boy is sent to St. Oswald’s, a boarding school. Here, amongst the mundane life he leads at school, he finds something to do. In a seemingly abandoned shack he meets Finn: a  boy who epitomises everything the writer would like to be – strong, fearless, good-looking and completely free from authority. Together they explore the coast and sea and all the while the hero of the story wonders who the elusive Finn really is.


It has the sense of fun and adventure of many of the great children’s classics but with far more realism. Things have consequences and modern attitudes are used to form their impression of them. The narrator symbolises how we think of ourselves – very self-consciously – whilst Finn symbolises how we would like to be – carefree and wild. These two contrasting characters stand on either side of the narrative, making sure that it stays comfortably within the boundaries of reality whilst still managing to be interesting and different.


A really clever book – with a surprising twist at the end.

Radha, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

This book is set in 1962 in the East Anglican coast. The story is told by a 100 year-old man who is telling the story of when he was sixteen ‘the year he found love’. This book is based on an ordinary school boy who hates school. He has been to two schools and he has been kicked out of both of them and now it is time to go to St Oswald’s. Here he meets an impossible person, a person that isn’t on any records, his name is Finn. Together they experience some wonderful things and at the end have a solid friendship. All goes pear-shaped when Finn becomes ill and must be taken to the hospital. 


In this book you are never told what the boy’s name is which makes it quite mysterious. This boy is full of tricks and always has something to say. This all changes when he meets Finn. Finn never talks and in turn it rubs off on the boy who doesn’t seem to talk that much now. The boy starts to stalk Finn and he wants to know every aspect of his life: how he eats, lives, and take care of himself in a hut by the sea. The boy loves his life and wants to be just like him so when it’s holidays he goes and stays with Finn and really gets to know his life.


Finn is a very quiet orderly boy who was brought up by his grandma who had died a few years back. Finn is very simple and just gets on with his life. Finn has always [said] he could go to school to learn but instead he reads books to gain Knowledge. He knows how to kayak and he is very active. Finn is the boy’s hero more than his love. The tables turn when Finn falls ill and the boy has to look after him.


This is a excellent book about growing up and making decisions even if they are the wrong ones. This isn’t a normal book about school but it is an experience that is never ever really going to happen to anyone. This is a very gripping story which entices you to read to the next page.    

Sally, from The Henrietta Barnett School London
The book is set in 1962 and is about a boy who has been sent to a horrible, dismal school on the coast of East Anglia. His stern parents have sent him to St Oswalds, where he is bullied, and across the story develops rules for himself, ‘Rule one, trust no one.’ His name, you don’t find out until the very end.

One day, during the painful, harsh cross country run the boys do, he finds a hut and meets a boy called Finn. Finn is a strange character, harsh and kind at the same time, he is also quite awkward and rarely speaks. In front of Finn the story is mostly his thoughts and [the boy] is constantly trying to live up to Finn. He wishes to be like him, free and independent, and develops a sort of love and obsession for him.

The book hasn’t got a very dramatic storyline, just a simple one, but the book gets the reader so sucked in that every little detail makes you want to read on. As the story goes on the boy gets more obsessed with Finn and almost gets expelled from his school when he spends the night at the hut.

When back at school, all his thoughts are of Finn and when he will next go to the hut. The book is written well, because although the story is very repetitive it manages to keep the reader interested. However I didn’t like the ending because I thought it was too obvious that there was something very different about Finn, and the signs were too often. I felt it should have been more dramatic after the very long build up throughout the book.

The book had a magical feel to it though and it was very easy to get caught up in the boy’s feelings for Finn. The writer was good at keeping a mystery element for Finn and kept you wondering towards the end. I quite enjoyed reading the book, although it was not one of my favourites. It was well written, with a good setting. 
Sophie, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

What I was had a very slow start. [The boy] is a student at St. Oswarld’s Boarding School and is embarrassed by his name [and] gets teased. His name is only mentioned once near the end of the book to make us want to read on.


His life at St. Oswarld’s is boring until he meets Finn. Finn is orphaned and lives by himself in a hut by the sea. The authorities do not know that he exists and not many people do. He works at the local market in the village to earn some money for basics and food. [The boy] plays a main part in Finn’s life and makes good friends with him. Finn has a strange way of not talking or answering questions which strikes [him] as strange. 



Overall I did not enjoy [this book] that much and I think that the cover gives away too much and makes the book look better than it is. I think it should be recommended for younger readers except for the end part, as the language was simple and the plot was not hard to follow. It wasn’t as amazing as everyone who had read it said it would be, and it was not very enjoyable. If I bought the book myself I would be disappointed. I think the only reason I wanted to read on was to find out [the boy’s] name.


Susan, from Hampstead School London


The East Anglian coast of 1962 is a dark and cold and place in which a story of a secret friendship between two teenagers is told. What I was is a compelling third novel by Meg Rosoff. it recalls the protagonist’s time in his third school, St Oswald, and the year he found love.

The reader is sucked into the narrator’s world of an awkward and sensitive sixteen-year-old boy, whose name we don’t discover until the end. He is sent to a boarding schoool by his father, who “rejoiced” at the fact that a school such as this would accept his “miserable failure of a son”.  The exact opposite of a happy, warm and cozy boarding school is St Oswald - a cold, dark and unhappy place to send kids. The boy is unpopular, being “not an athlete” and “not a student either”; he is seen as weak by his peers and the bullying is not something new to him. During a cross-country run he discovers Fynn, a boy about his age, who lives alone and supports himself by a job in the local market. ... There are frequent references to the Dark Ages, a period of battles and brutality, in which Finn's primitive life at the hut represents the harsh reality of this way of life.

I would strongly recommend this book to those who enjoy coming-of-age novels and to those who also enjoyed Meg Rosoff’s first two books – the multi-award-winning How I Live Now, and Just In Time for which she picked up the Carnegie Medal in 2007.




Tanjia, from Hampstead School London

What I was is a thrilling and well-told story. The novel concerns a boy who has been expelled from two boarding schools. The last thing he wanted was to be on the East Anglian coast at a third school. However, when he arrived there he discovered a fisherman’s hut with a roaring fire. If he hadn’t attended this school he wouldn’t have met the boy with the beautiful eyes, the flickering half smile and no past.


The best thing about this novel is the quality of the writing.

Tasnim, from The Henrietta Barnett School London

A unique tale about a teenage boy who's started at his third school, St Oswald's. There he discovers the fisherman's hut by the beach, where he finds Finn. Although he or Finn won't admit it, a growing relationship stronger than friendship develops between them. But it can't last, as everyday they get closer to discovering the truth.


I loved it! I haven't read any thing like it, its sense of concealing the truth really adds to the shocking unexpected ending. It's a fantastically, suspenseful tale that deserves an encore!!!

Tom, from University College School London

What I Was is the story of a 16-year-old boy who, after being expelled from two previous boarding schools, ends up in a strict, traditionalist school out on the East Anglian Coast. I suppose the school is summed up in the name: St Oswald’s. He hates St Oswald’s, and has an utter scorn for the other upper-class boys who are taught there. He soon meets a local boy, Finn, who lives by himself in a hut on a secluded island, and develops an obsession with him. His entire life becomes centred around Finn; he worships his grace, his strength, and becomes entranced by his innocence.


The plot of What I Was holds its own, with an extremely surprising twist at the end -  though very badly delivered. The narrator’s character (we never find out his name) is very well illustrated, and we like him within a few pages due to his dry, sarcastic wit, at times hilarious, and his contempt for the rich, snobby morons who make up most of the school’s students. Finn isn’t particularly interesting - slightly angelic, though I suppose that is merely through the eyes of the narrator; even so, he is very two-dimensional.


I liked this book, but the ending was, though clever and unexpected, poorly written and relatively incomprehensible. This was probably the book, out of the eight, with the lowest factor of “unputdownability”…I can’t believe I just wrote that.