Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

“Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed.  Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.”

Vera’s former best friend Charlie is dead.  It’s hard enough when your best friend dies, she thinks, but when he stabs you in the back and then dies, it makes things infinitely worse.  Worse still, when he comes back to haunt you, with his ghostly form showing up in the car when you’re kissing another guy, or in the bathroom at school, it is the absolute pits.

Vera is eighteen, living with her father (you will love him, I think.  He’s pretty much the Best. Dad. Ever!), an accountant and recovering alcoholic who invests his whole heart in making sure she has the best future possible.  She works full time at a pizza place, and spends the rest of her time drinking to forget Charlie and the secret she is determined not to tell.  Of course, it’s not as easy as all that-Charlie’s ghost keeps showing up at inopportune times, a silent, shaming reminder urging Vera to tell what she knows and clear his name.

The best part of this book?  The format!  See, the story is told in a creative way-all first person, addressed right to you, and by different speakers.  I think readers will love Ken Dietz, Vera’s dad.  He chimes in during the story, in chapters titled things like “A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Frustrated Dad)” and with flow charts, like “Ken Dietz’s Face Your Shit Flow Chart”.  I kid you not, I actually made a copy of that flowchart and pasted it up on my bulletin board.  And besides Ken and Vera (and even Charlie, who pipes up every few chapters), there is the Pagoda.  That’s right, a building.  The Pagoda is a park building with special significance to Ken and his ex-wife (she left them when Vera was 12), and it gets a few chapters of its own. Trust me, the Pagoda is hilarious-I think it’s the best and funniest part of the novel.

This book combines creative elements (a haunting, a mystery, a talking Pagoda) with a great format (many voices, FLOW CHARTS!), and very common social problems of young people.  I think you’re going to love it! (And others did, too-this is a Printz Honor book, and a nominee for the Edgar Allen Poe mystery award!)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com/ (The website is really funny-the giant header describes her as “a corn lover” and “wearer of magical writing pants”. Awesome!)

All right, folks, since I’m in library school now, I think I’ll change the way I give the book information.  If you hate it, please let me know, and I’ll change it back!

ISBN 9780375865862
0375865861
Personal Author King, A. S.1970-
Title Please ignore Vera Dietz /A.S. King.
Edition 1st ed.
Publication info New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2010.
Physical descrip 326 p. ; 22 cm.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter and freeze. What is wrong with me? It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis.”

I stayed us late reading this book.  It transported me back to the sheer wretchedness of being a teenager, left me haunted and edgy, trying to reassure myself that I was, in fact, an adult now, far away from those years.  Even the author comments on the visceral power of the story.  In her introductory letter, she says:

“Speak is the book that I wasn’t going to write.  Why would I want to revisit the agonies of adolescence? Wasn’t that the point of surviving to adulthood-so I could block out the traumas of being a teenager?”

The book relates the story of Melinda, a self-described “Outcast”, a “clanless” girl, formerly popular, with good grades, but who called the police at a summer party (for reasons that aren’t revealed until midway through the book), and is subsequently ostracized for it.  The writing pulls you inside her head, really creating the feel of isolation.  Melinda observes the different groups at school, and tries to deal with the abandonment of her former friends.

We learn that Melinda was raped at the party, and hasn’t told anyone.  She is dealing with the trauma of the assault as well as the added injury of complete social excommunication.  It’s a painful read, but well-punctuated with Melinda’s wry and often comic observations of the students around her.  Readers follow her pitiably bleak life through sections of the book, divided like academic grading periods.  Eventually Melinda finds her voice, aided by a sympathetic art teacher, and is able to open up and begin her healing process.   

Laurie Halse Anderson is a big name in the YA lit world.  Speak won many awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Award.  The Edgar award goes to distinguished mystery writers, and at first, I was a bit confused, because I didn’t see the book as a mystery.  However, in a way, it certainly is: readers don’t know what is interfering with Melinda’s ability to talk until mid-story.  Anderson has another novel that I’ve been wanting to read for a while, called Fever 1793, about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. It, too, won several honors and awards.

This is a well-written book that doesn’t bow to sensationalism or drama: the strength in the text lies in its realism, which I feel gives teens a lot of credit.  Anderson doesn’t write down to them or presume to understand their lives, but creates a character that is believable and complex.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://madwomanintheforest.com/

Anderson, Laurie Halse.  Speak. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. 197 pp. Ages 13 and up.  ISBN: 978-0142407325. Paperback.

If you liked this book, try Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.