Then there's the structure of the story, which oscillates between the present narrative, several months after Charlie's death, and the past, jumping around from the time Charlie and Vera were small to the weeks leading up to his death. Even though the story is told in an extremely non-linear fashion, following more a stream-of-consciousness than logical chronology, I didn't find it hard to follow at all. It made sense. An event would happen, and it would remind Vera of a memory, which we would view through her eyes. Or Vera would wonder why something happened, and we'd flash to her dad or Charlie, giving a perspective Vera never knew about.
There's also the barest hint of the supernatural, with Charlie observing Vera from beyond the grave, and eventually, seeming like he still has some sway on the outside world. But it's subtle, and this is by no means a paranormal story. Charlie and Vera each have their own interpretations of what's happening, and it's up to the reader to decide what to make of it.
Digging into the story itself, I thought it was a beautiful examination of so many big issues, each of which was handled with care and presented thoughtfully, without making this seem like a Big Issues Book. There's the obvious one: the death of a friend. But there's also the betrayal of a friend, and the perils inherent in navigating the treacherous waters of trying to keep a friend from childhood through the teen years. There's alcoholism, viewed from the perspectives of a person in recovery and a person on the brink. There's romance, and all the various ways teens approach flirtation and dating and jealousy and sex. There's abandonment by a parent, the struggle of a single parent, and the tension between a parent trying to protect his child from the mistakes he made, and the teenage girl yearning for the independence to make her own mistakes.
And those are just the main plot points. There's a bunch more Big Issues that arise in the subplots, and though that may seem like way too many Big Issues for one book, they're handled masterfully, so they all play off each other and interconnect in a way that seems balanced and real. Honestly, until I typed them out right now, I didn't realize just how many Big Issues there were. It seemed organic and natural, giving good perspectives and making some excellent observations without ever once giving even the slightest hint of being preachy.
The characters were treated with equal deftness. Vera was a wonderful narrator. She was smart and sassy and funny, but she also had her share of insecurities and doubts. She screwed up in some pretty major ways without it ever feeling like she had to screw up for the sake of story. All her choices felt like things she would really do, even though she was a smart kid and some of her decisions were pretty terrible. Because sometimes smart, good kids make bad decisions. And this book does an excellent job of exploring why. I was totally sucked in by her story, her history with Charlie, and how she was dealing with his death.
Then there was Charlie, who did some pretty rotten things before he died, but who is never a completely unlikable character. He explains some of his more abhorrent activities without really making excuses. Mostly, Charlie regrets the choices he made that hurt Vera and led to his death, and works to make the reader understand why those choices seemed necessary at the time, even if he wishes now he could take them back. Charlie's story is a sad one, and it seemed his whole life was a series of trying to make the best of the terrible hand he was dealt -- and sometimes he failed. Big time. His sections do an excellent job of providing explanations, not excuses, and they made me really feel for this screwed up kid.
The biggest surprise in this book is Vera's father, Ken. He starts out as your typical YA parent -- overprotective and clueless. The kind of YA parent that I think is way overused (and only marginally better than the Dead YA Parents) and always leaves me frustrated. But through the inclusion of his POV, we're able to see why he treats Vera the way he does, his struggles, his aspirations for her life. And although this is YA and he is an adult, he goes through a coming-of-age arc of his own, as he fights with his own inner demons to try to give his daughter the life he never had. I really love that he was treated so thoughtfully as a character, and that the reader was able to understand his perspective. I wish more YA books took the approach of presenting the parents as real people, and took the time to explore the often-strained relationship between teens and their parents from both sides of the coin. I understand that teens aren't necessarily chomping at the bit to read a story told in the voice of their parents, but if it's handled well, as it is in this book, I think it really enhances the story, no matter the age of the reader.
Overall, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a beautifully constructed tale of love, friendship, loss, and betrayal, with a varied cast of wonderfully realized characters who really brought the story to life. It tackles a myriad of tough issues, any one of which could bog a lesser book down, with grace and aplomb. It's in turns funny and poignant, thoughtful and carefree, and one of the most unique and well-executed books I've read in a while.