‘When We Were Romans’ charming, sad

  Author Matthew Kneale crafts a poignant family drama in his new book, “When We Were Romans.”
  The narrator of the story, 9-year-old Lawrence, is a clever boy with a kind heart, though sometimes he does get irritated by his little sister, Jemima. The children’s mother, Hannah, packs them all up and decides to move to Rome after she becomes convinced her estranged husband is stalking them.
  Lawrence only wants to keep his mom happy. He helps shield his sister from his mother’s fears, making the move more of a game than a flight for safety. He keeps watch when his mom is distracted so his father won’t sneak up on them. Though through it all, he struggles with conflicting emotions.
  “It was a bit frightening actually, because when I started opening the curtain I thought ‘dads face might be right here on the other side of the window looking right at me.’ But there was a strange thing too, because d’you know a bit of me sort of hoped he would be there, that was funny. … But then I squashed that bit, I blew it up, I thought ‘oh no you don’t’ and I thought ‘I don’t like you dad, just go away, don’t start pretending to be nice.’ But of course he wasn’t there anyway.”
  Since Lawrence is the narrator, Kneale purposely uses spelling mistakes throughout the text. At first I stumbled a little over these, but after I got used to it, I felt it made Lawrence’s voice more authentic.
  Kneale expertly portrays Lawrence’s reactions to his mother’s growing paranoia. The boy is scared at times, protective of his mother and sister, annoyed by his mother and sister, confused by his family’s circumstances yet excited by the adventure.
  “When We Were Romans” is a touching, sometimes heartbreaking story of one little boy watching as the foundation of his family crumbles beneath him. Lawrence, as well as his sister, will capture readers’ hearts as he struggles to comprehend his mother’s troubles and do whatever it takes to keep his family intact.

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