Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
Every once in a while, you come across a book that is so completely honest that it forces you to examine parts of yourself and your life that you maybe didn't even realize you were missing. A book that completely gets you and understands you better than you understand yourself.
I had no idea what to expect when I finally picked up Please Ignore Vera Dietz. The one description I'd read of it before was confusing, but the blurb on the inside jacket peaked my interest. And once I started reading, I felt an inexplicable kinship with Vera that blew me away. Not to say that she and I have a lot in common, but just the feelings that come along with dealing with your friends and family when you're a teenager were aspects that I could completely relate with.
Is it okay to hate a dead kid? Even if I loved him once? Even if he was my best friend? Is it okay to hate him for being dead? -Vera Dietz
To say that Vera's had a somewhat shitty life and to say she's in for a shitty senior year is an understatement. (Pardon the swearing, but it's almost impossible not to swear a little with this book.) Her best friend Charlie, who she was in love with, has just died, and she knows more than anyone realizes about the mysterious circumstances that brought it about. But she's not saying because they had a falling out five months before. So instead we learn about Vera's life now and in the past via various flashbacks about her family, Charlie, and how cruel the universe can be to us and how we can be to each other. She's a teenage alcoholic, her mom was a former stripper who left her and her father a few years before, and now she's being haunted by Charlie who wants Vera to clear his name.
This is contemporary and YA fiction at a high point. It's not supernatural (don't let the haunted aspect make you think it's some sort of hokey Halloween story - it's not), but King paints a picture and main characters who are able to admit there is much more going on in the universe than we can ever understand. There's a perfect balance between the story happening now and then, the interjections from the pagoda overlooking the town (yes, the building itself), Mr. Dietz, and even Charlie ("A Brief Word From the Dead Kid") are humours and insightful and heartbreaking all at once. The relationship between Charlie and Vera was so relatable for me, and it crushed me as I read and saw it develop to know that it had to end with Charlie dying somehow. Every voice is distinct and brutally honest, every character whole and flawed and complicated and it was all fantastic. I love that this book doesn't remind me of any other book I've read.
My only regret with this book is that I didn't read it sooner. And I told A.S. King as such, and she replied!
If you are a fan of contemporary fiction that's not afraid of getting gritty and exploring those big, awful, complicated, necessary questions that life throws at us and that critics all too frequently claim YA literature is incapable of adequately exploring, learn from my mistake and pick up a copy of this novel as soon as possible.
*EDIT - A.S. King quoted this exact post of mine on her blog! Check it out here!*
Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!
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