2010 at 5am Posted by Rebecca Joines Schinsky
Published October 2010 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
If it’s true that all women fear becoming their mothers, seventeen-year-old Vera Dietz is getting an early start. Her best friend Charlie Kahn just died—well, actually, he “screwed [her] over and then died five months later”—and she knows the truth about what happened but hasn’t revealed it yet, and the pressure of the secret, combined with her love/hate/pity/grief for Charlie, is literally driving her to drink. As if that’s not enough to make a girl angsty, Vera’s mother (who was just a teenager herself when Vera was born) has been gone for six years, and Vera is terrified that she won’t be able to keep up the good-girl behavior and avoid the destiny her parents have created for her.
If it’s as easy as catching my future from a blood relative, then I guess I’m due to be a drunk, pregnant, dropout stripper any day now.
The business of evading her destiny is a full-time job—in addition to her real full-time gig delivering pizza, in addition to going to school—and to top it off, Vera is also contending with the thousand Charlies she has begun seeing when she least wants to be thinking about her dead friend. They follow her on her pizza delivery routes, they appear in her bedroom and at school, and they pop up when she’s drunkenly making out with her twenty-three-year-old coworker James.
The more he follows me, the more he nags me to clear his name.
Life hasn’t always been so complicated for Vera, who remembers her childhood days with Charlie quite fondly, but the shared—though mostly unspoken—knowledge that Charlie’s father subjects his mother to verbal and physical abuse has haunted their friendship like the proverbial elephant in the room.
There was a reason Charlie was such a bright blazing sun. He came from an endless cold, black space.
Vera and her parents could hear the screaming through the woods separating their house from the Kahns’ but they refused to do anything about it, claiming it was best to stay out of another family’s problems. But now that Charlie is dead and Vera is trying to stay out of a different set of problems, she’s seeing the flaws in the “just ignore it” plan.
It seems the older people get, the more shit they ignore. Or, like Dad, they pay attention to stuff that distracts them from the more important things they’re ignoring.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz is author A.S. King’s examination of a less-than-perfect adolescence (and aren’t they all?), the tension between love and pity, the extent to which our parents’ decisions and mistakes determine who we become, and the problems that arise when adults shield children from the truth in an effort to protect them. Vera narrates the story in first-person present, switching to past tense for “history” chapters that illuminate her past and how exactly things got to where they are now, and her voice is sharp, clever, and incredibly endearing. She’s snarky and a little bit sassy, and I totally loved her for it.
Vera’s narrative is broken up by short interjections from her father (a recovering alcoholic who forces Vera to work full time and hounds her about her “secret binge-drinking problem” in an effort to help her “evade her destiny”), Charlie (whose sections are titled “A Brief Word from the Dead Kid”), and even the gaudy pagoda that serves as the local make-out spot-slash-secret drinking place. These intrusions are by turns touching, hilarious, and revealing, and they give the narrative added depth and interest. Iit’s also nice that not only is at least one of Vera’s parents present, but we get to hear things from his perspective.
Vera has theories about why Charlie ended their friendship and committed the ultimate betrayal, which she will only refer to vaguely, but she doesn’t have the whole story. King gives it to us straight from the horse’s mouth with a short chapter in which Charlie—who had taken up with the school druggies in the months before he died—explains that “I didn’t want her to see what I was becoming—a sneaky person who couldn’t stop himself from doing shit he shouldn’t do” and then drops a MAJOR bomb.
And that’s not all, folks. There are also flow charts. Flow charts!
*happy dance of nerdy joy*
As Vera struggles to keep her drinking secret and under control (spoiler alert: she fails at both) and to work up the ladyballs to do right by Charlie, she reflects on what it must have been like for her mother—”Is this how it started with her? Are there baby steps toward complete loserdom?”—and begins to understand where her father is coming from, even if he is off-base, misguided, and “a heartless, blind-eye hypocrite.” She reaps the consequences of her decisions and is forced to face up to her own role in creating (or avoiding) her destiny.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a fine example of why good young adult literature is so important, and it offers much to be enjoyed by adult readers as well (as evidenced by the fact that I don’t tend to love YA and I can’t stop talking about this book). King is a powerful storyteller with a keen ear for how people really speak and a strong grasp of the challenges adults and teens face in contemporary life. She writes tension and struggle without being melodramatic and comedy without kitsch. And just as soon as I figure out what kind of panties are appropriate for throwing at an author whose book is geared to the underage crowd, I’ll be tossing a pair her way.
- Tough Love: Four YA Novels That Aren’t Afraid of the Truth (The Bare Necessities—A.S. King)
- Book Review: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
- Just Read It: EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS by A.S. King
- Book Review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
- A.S. King Is Sorry If She Makes You Uncomfortable…But She Wants You To Read This Anyway