Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: What I Did by Christopher Wakling

A bit about the book: Christopher Wakling's What I Did is a charming novel with a fairly large twist: the entire novel is told from the point of view of a six-year-old. Complete with misunderstood words and somewhat skewed language skills, it is the story of a family told by their young son, Billy.

Billy is primarily taken care of by his father Jim, who works from home, while his mother works long hours. One day Billy and his father go on a trip to a local park, a trip that changes the course of both their lives. During normal back-and-forth moments between father and son, Billy becomes upset and runs away from his father. Jumping out into a busy street, he is finally caught by his father.

Everything that happens next is one long bit of confusion. Witnesses state one thing; Billy, in his six-year-old, imaginative way of talking, tells the story in a wildly different manner; and Billy's father Jim has his own version, of course.

Why you want to read it: Although the six-year-old point of view can be difficult to read with ease (there are definitely no speed-readers making their way through this novel in record time), Wakling also makes it fun and entertaining -- and most likely very true-to-life. Our narrator misunderstands many words, making for some confusion as you read, followed by small bursts of "Oh!" as it's figured out. Some excellent Billy-isms:
  • "We do some pretend making for a bit and as we do it I give Lizzie a running comment tree." (p. 77)
  • "Goldfish have a very short attention spam, too." (p. 82)
  • "Then I tell her about silverback gorillas who also have posable thumbs and weigh up to four hundred pounds and are therefore earth's greatest prime-apes." (p. 159)
While hilarious at times, What I Did is also an exercise in frustration for a reader. Billy is an extraordinarily intelligent little boy, with a high interest in animals and the animal world. He understands much about life beyond his years, but at the end of the day, he is still six. He has very definite ideas about right and wrong. These ideas create problems as he struggles to tell the truth, but in a very different way than adults would. If you're like me, you'll find yourself tense beyond belief, wanting only for the truth to come out.

The bottom line: Billy is an unreliable, yet winning narrator. You will fall deeply in love with him and want to shake him in equal parts. Wakling has undertaken a huge risk in allowing a six-year-old to tell this story, but he ultimately wins. What I Did is a fresh way to look at the modern family.

About the author: Christopher Wakling is the author of several other novels that have been published in the UK, with some making the crossover to America. He has dabbled in several career areas, including newspaper writing and law. He has lived in California, England, and Australia. On his website, Wakling discusses his inspiration for What I Did: "When I’m not doing those things, I look after my two small children. Fatherhood is fantastic.  It has also exposed some interesting character flaws.  Hence WHAT I DID."

You can find out more about the author by visiting his website or by following him on Twitter. You can hear more from Billy's voice by reading Billy's Blog.

TLC Book Tour info: This review is part of the TLC Book Tour for What I Did. For more thoughts on the novel, click over to their tour page for the novel where you will find a complete list of reviews.


  1. I am not always a huge fan of books with young narrators, but there are exceptions. This one does sound good, so maybe...

  2. I am not always a huge fan of books with young narrators, but there are exceptions. This one does sound good, so maybe...

  3. This sounds like quite an engaging story - I can't wait to get to know Billy myself!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

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