"To say my friend died is one thing.
To say my friend screwed me over and then died five months later is another thing."
YA fiction is a passion of mine, and I consider most everything honored by the Printz award committee to be golden adolescent lit. It was a series of YA novels that inspired me to write and to teach literature, and ultimately I would not be pursuing a career as a high school librarian if it didn't exist--would my future job even exist if certain authors had never decided to pick up the pen and write something that middle and high schoolers could relate to? I am afraid my future job would just involve a lot of shushing and research help in the reference section and that's about the extent of it.
Needless to say, I enjoy a YA novel that I know high schoolers can relate to. In King's novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz, I found a protagonist that I can root for and plenty of cringe-worthy mistakes I can relate to having made regarding love, responsibility, and relationships with those around me. Vera Dietz classifies herself as a person to not be seen or heard, and she intends to keep up that persona. A high school senior and self-proclaimed bona fide "pizza delivery technician," Vera settles for passing through life without making waves, keeping a solitary, (unpredictable) best friend named Charlie from the time she's in elementary school until her high school years. Charlie is the only person Vera opens herself up to, and what she shares is still only the bare minimum. She keeps herself out of trouble, keeps her lips sealed about her parents' broken relationship and the goings-on in Charlies home life, and keeps her feelings to herself.
But when Charlie abandons Vera for a shady group of new friends, including the vindictive Jenny Flick, Vera's quiet, mundane life is shaken. And when Charlie dies under mysterious circumstances and sends his ethereal, life-sized paper doll look-alikes to haunt Vera until she clears his name, Vera loses control of every part of her life she previously had in line.
Vera's story is a familiar struggle without the stereotypes of teenage drama and hormones flooding out of every chapter (as many not-so-well-written YA novels can't seem to thrive without). Sure, she has to cope with the loss of her best friend, but she does not let herself fall gently into melancholy and floods of tears. Vera knows she was completely abandoned by Charlie without reason and his absence is both confusing and infuriating. She chooses to cope with his ghosts (as well as her own) in both reckless and hilarious ways, and I found that refreshing and heartbreaking. I admit that I see a glimmer of my own fumbling, stubborn adolescent self in Vera's character, as I'm sure many readers inevitably will.
A.S. King presents the novel through the perspectives of several characters (Vera, Charlie, Vera's Dad, and the Pagoda, the town's most popular landmark) with a clever variety of chapters (ranging from titles such as "History--Age Twelve" to "Three and a Half Months Later: A Thursday in December"), making the flow of the story unpredictable, yet still linear as far as the plot's progression. I found myself laughing aloud amidst many chapters and feeling quite sad for Vera's hard-to-swallow life experiences. I enjoyed watching her learn how to continue living her life, not passively as it seems more easily done, but with purpose.
I found myself connecting the song "High School Lover" by Air to this novel, and although the song is a bit too melancholy for some, I didn't really mind. I find it fitting, but that's just me. Take a listen here if you'd like.
4Q: The writing was brilliant (especially the change in perspectives, time and momentum), but was at times a little too angst-y. Luckily those parts are not memorable enough to mask the literary value of the novel.
4P: This novel could easily be swept into a nondescript, generalized group of YA lit, but I think if teachers/librarians took the time to book-talk it, it would be a hit among high schoolers, especially because of the familiar struggles and the smart language.
picture taken from readingrants.com via creativecommons.org