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Comment: Condition: Very good condition., Binding: Paperback / Publisher: Anchor / Pub. Date: 2009-08-11 Attributes: Book, 240 pp / Stock#: 2064265 (FBA) * * *This item qualifies for FREE SHIPPING and Amazon Prime programs! * * *
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When We Were Romans Paperback – August 11, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307387860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307387868
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,019,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—For teens with a taste for sad, morose stories in which adults abandon their responsibilities and a child takes them on, Romans will be a welcome addition to the canon. Lawrence is a nine-year-old whose mother, Hanna, has convinced him and his younger sister, Jemima, that their estranged father is poisoning their food, turning the neighbors against them, and stalking them. To escape his alleged behavior, she takes them from London to Rome, a city she knew as a young single woman. Hanna often experiences "blackouts"—she sits and stares, refusing to move or participate in daily activities. Life in Rome is initially better: Hanna's friends from the past come to her aid in finding housing and a job. But things soon deteriorate and Hanna once again relies on Lawrence to act as the adult. Lawrence's feelings are symbolized through the scientific and historic facts he reveals throughout his narrative. Things are never happy for him, and the family is never able to achieve contentment or find peace. Some teens will find this state of explained sadness cathartic.—Joanne Ligamari, Twin Rivers United School District, Sacramento, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


“Extraordinary.... Enemies might be real or they might be imagined, but what's absolutely true for Lawrence is his unshakable belief in the conspiracy of his and his mother's love.” —The Washington Post Book World“If you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, definitely pick up When We Were Romans.” —The St. Petersburg Times“How much Lawrence understands of his family's tribulations is the book's central, poignant mystery; the consummate artistry with which Kneale captures this child's voice, its chief pleasure.” —Entertainment Weekly“Full of restraint and artistic integrity, this is a poignant, haunting and lovely novel.” —The Guardian“[Lawrence] is the literary first cousin of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke . . . The heartbreak and triumph of When We Were Romans is that little Lawrence is the real thing.” —Literary Review“Matthew Kneale's lovely novel . . . is narrated by Lawrence with insight, humor and sweetly erratic spelling: it halts and splutters in rhythm with the children's whims and tantrums . . . the author has got inside a young, overburdened mind with convincing accuracy.” —Financial Times“The strength of Kneale's novel is not suspense but Lawrence's delicate sensibility . . . Lawrence's touchingly ingenuous language, his tetchy irritation with his baby sister, and his beleaguered optimism make him a genuinely affecting protagonist.” —Independent“Substantial and engaging . . .With consummate subtlety and sympathy, Kneale finds metaphorical hinges between the family's unfolding story and Lawrence's two intellectual interests-Roman emperors and astronomy.” —The Times“Lawrence's skillful maneuvering in a tricksy adult world is artfully depicted. His guileless voice only exacerbates the sense of dread, while its deceptive simplicity hides a chilling exploration of mental illness and maternal neglect.” —New Statesman

Customer Reviews

Overall, quite a worthwhile read; one that book groups will love to discuss.
The book also dragged in parts and as much as it was a short book at 224 pages, I think it should have been shorter as parts of it just felt unnecessary.
Saying anymore would be letting out a spoiler so I'll just say that the ending left me asking too many questions for this to be a satisfying read.
Monie Garcia

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader VINE VOICE on August 31, 2008
Format: Paperback
When his mother decides to pack the family up to go to Rome, nine-year-old Lawrence isn't sure what to think. All he knows is that suddenly, his father is everywhere, out to get them, and they have to get away. He watches as his mother sinks into mental illness on their exodus, observing all with the sometimes innocent, sometimes surprisingly wise voice of a child. Intertwined with his story are his descriptions of his various interests, like the Solar System and some of the popes.

I loved this book. I've since learned that my feelings aren't universally felt, and I suspect I know why. Lawrence felt like me. How hard is it to grow up with mental illness in your family? Only those of us who have experienced it think about it, just as with any other familial problem. His struggles spoke to me, his thoughts echoed mine when I was around his age - honestly, it was eerie, but I was so moved. I also liked that it was written in his child's voice. As I was reading it, I was sucked in and totally believed in this character. Matthew Kneale never slips out of Lawrence's voice and it's easy to sink in and fall in love with him as his reactions echo that of every child.

I wasn't bothered by the spelling errors or the run-on grammar; I took it as an echo of Lawrence's thoughts, as if we were inside his head or he was telling us the story. It didn't bother me when he spelled names wrong or the new words he was learning were spelled phonetically. I was willing to accept it as the voice of a child, and I think that's where people have trouble with this book, because they're not willing to do the same. They get stuck on "Franseen" and Lawrence's run-on sentences and can't fall into the illusion.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Nicole on August 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
The salient feature of the novel is that it is told in the first-person voice of a nine-year-old boy, Lawrence, complete with grammatical and spelling errors. The gimmick was more annoying than anything else. I have no problem with telling the story through the filter of childhood, and using a stream-of-consciousness type voice along with the misunderstandings and mistakes common to children, but Lawrence's spelling seemed to contribute little to that filter and was, instead, highly distracting. Within a single paragraph a woman's name was spelled "Hilary," "Hillary," and "Hilery"--even a nine-year-old shouldn't be that indecisive, and it almost makes it seem as though Kneale can't remember exactly which misspelt variants Lawrence was supposed to be using (I doubt this was actually the case, but the conceit failed for this reader). (Sidebar: helpful hint to American readers--Kneale, and thus Lawrence, are non-rhotic speakers of English. This means whenever Lawrence spells something with "er" at the end, it means an "uh" sound, e.g., "Persher" is "Persia.")

Hannah, Lawrence's mother, decides to run away with her children to Rome, where she lived as a young woman and met their father, the man she is now trying to escape. The family moves from flat to flat as they wear out their welcome with Hannah's old friends until finally they find a place of their own. Through Lawrence's eyes we can see that things are not quite what they seem, though he is largely oblivious to the fact, and his mother is paranoid rather than pursued. For a time he begins to have doubts about his mother's fears, but she manages to convince him once again that her ex-husband is trying to kill the three of them. Lawrence then suggests what could be a permanent solution to their problem.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Ray VINE VOICE on November 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
When We Were Romans is a relatively short but very moving novel. Lawrence is a 9 year old boy, and the narrator of the tale. When the story begins, Lawrence is living with his mother and younger sister in a cabin following his parents' divorce. He is uprooted abruptly when his mother decides to move the family to Rome, where she once lived. The children each are allowed one box full of toys, Lawrence brings along his pet mouse Herman and they set off in the family car for Rome.

Once in Rome, they rely on the kindness of the mother's friends for lodging. Eventually they move into a rented apartment, and Lawrence's mother finds a job. However, she gets restless again and the reason for the initial move to Rome is revealed.

This book is very sad because of the young narrator's naiveté - it becomes clear to the reader that Lawrence's mother is struggling with mental illness, but of course Lawrence is too young to realize this. Instead he is drawn into his mother's paranoia, and bravely tries to please her and defend his family from his mother's many perceived enemies.

There are a couple of things in this book that did not work for me. Because of the first person narrative, there are misspellings throughout the text. This seemed like a gimmick to me, because simple words were often misspelled whereas complex ones were not, and the misspellings did not appear consistently throughout the book. Also, there are a number of lengthy stories about Roman emperors, etc. that I found distracting - the side discussions of astronomy did much more to add to the story. However, these gripes are very minor.

Overall this is a well-written and very unique book. Fans of The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime will find much to appreciate here.
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