Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Hardcover: 240 pages
First Line: "One day scientists found something strange out in space." (fyi, this is seemingly incongruous with the story, but it does actually come to make more sense)
One Word Review: Authentic
Young Lawrence is in a difficult situation. He and his sister, Jemima, live in London with their rather unstable mother, Hannah. When Hannah begins to suspect that their estranged father is stalking them, they pack up the family car and head to Rome, where they will stay with some of Hannah's old friends. But, just as Lawrence starts to feel secure in his new home, things begin to unravel, and Hannah decides to make a last desperate attempt to keep her family safe.
Since I finished reading When We Were Romans, I've been running over and over in my mind just how I felt about it as a whole. It's been a couple of days, and I'm still a little unsure. There were good and bad things (more good than bad, certainly), but still it left me feeling...uneasy. I think that's probably the result of the empathy I felt towards Lawrence. The story is told through his voice, misspellings, improper grammar, and all, and I found myself imagining my own young son in the same situations. How would he react? Why is life so often cruelest to children? Actually, as sad as it made me feel, I think it's sort of a testament to the author for creating a character that would evoke such emotions. So, I'll mark that down as a good thing. Another thing that I thought brought authenticity to the novel (which I've noticed others had problems with) was Lawrence-speak. Perhaps it is the very fact that I have a 10 year old son, that I found the misspelled words and run-on, stream of consciousness like sentences to be not only appropriate but also necessary if you're going to have a 9 year old narrator. Some reviewers have mentioned that the same words were spelled differently (sometimes correctly, other times not) throughout the book, and they find this inconsistent and perhaps sloppy. For me, it's what made Lawrence real.
As to the story, I had a feeling from chapter one that I knew where it was headed. There's no huge shocker of an ending, but it's not the sort of book that really needs that. You know what's going on. It's part of what makes it so heartbreaking. You can see what's coming, and yet, young Lawrence is seemingly oblivious. On the other hand, there were moments where I felt that Lawrence was acting out of character. Towards the end of the book, I found some of his actions to be too divergent from his personality to be believable, and it left me a little disappointed in the handling of that particular point in the book, but not so much so that it detracted from the rest of the novel.
When We Were Romans is a powerful look at of the loss of innocence, and it's well worth the read.
If you're interested, you can buy When We Were Romans here.