Please Ignore Vera Dietz
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.
The two that come to mind almost instinctively are Holly Schindlers A BLUE SO DARK (Flux, 2010) and Jandy Nelsons THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (Dial, 2010)if you havent read them, do so, as they are brilliant, complex and smart observations of what it means to be a teen. (You'll see yourself reflected in the characters, I promise.)
Im happy to say that I recently read (and rereadits impulsive!) another 2010 book Id add to that listA.S. Kings PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ (Knopf, 2010), the second novel from this incredibly talented and poignant novelist. (Kings first novel, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, was published by Flux in 2009also an awesome read.)
Though not perfect, VERA DIETZ is a novel that I shall cherish for its voice and its honest portrayal of a cast of characters, all so real it physically hurts.
From the cover flap: 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?
Veras spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years shes kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyonethe kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
Its so hard to talk about a book like this one (aka, think about it out loud) without giving away too much. Theres an incredible amount of stuffthe experimental narration (some scenes King narrates from the POV of the pagoda that sits atop the hill in this town, for example, and she also breaks up the narration in very interesting ways); the use of flow charts to summarize, often cynically, major life lessons; and the main character herself.
Vera is multi-dimensionalsmart, cynical, funny, devastated, coming of age, unforgiving, forgiving, all rolled up in one. Shes such a teen. Everything about her screams TEEN. REAL TEEN. PAY ATTENTION. I adored her, and I sure would love to have someone like her in real life to call a friend. Charlie, too, is believable in and out, and theres a lot that a reader can take away from Vera and Charlies relationship (or lack of one) with each other.
The plot is simple in its complexitythere are many things going on, but the main plot arc and the questions it raises are all crystal clear. And its the line between plot and character where I wondered about a few things (why Vera stopped drinking so easily, for onethough she comes off as a responsible person all in all, the plot jumped ahead, and while I understand that a novel has its limitations, there were some tiny inconsistencies like this one).
There is so much here to drink in.
I cant recommend PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ more, a novel that is brilliantly written with a ton of insight, a lot of which might just strike close to your heart.
Vera Dietzwhat a name. What a character. Pagoda Pizza driver. Cynic. Humorist. Student. Daughter. Best friend. Wallflower. Shes someone you definitely want to get to know, I promise you, and as you learn about her, youll find yourself falling for her dad, her mom (despite her flaws), Charlie, James (the twenty-three-year-old Vera almost dates), the nice people at the pizza place, and the nice people at the animal store (animal store? What animal store? Youll have to read this to find out).
Go. Read. Come back and tell us how much you loved it!
The beauty in this story is that while Vera Dietz is swimming in her grief, she still seems to pull you out of your own. This book makes you sit up and pay attention. Because really, who can’t sympathize with losing someone? Who can’t relate to a person who made bad choices? Who doesn’t know how to mess themselves up so brutally? Who doesn’t know that rhetorical questions are often the mark of someone who doesn’t know what to say?
Well, as far as the rhetorical questions question goes, I think that rhetorical questions are sometimes useful. I don’t like reading books that don’t make me think. And the theme of Vera’s story could be a million different questions. Will you change your life? Will you change someone else’s life? Will you make a choice that will affect the rest of your life? Will you write Zen quotes on post-its and leave them lying around your house?
In the end, you have to answer your own questions. There is only really one question someone else can answer for you, and that is whether or not you should read this book. And the answer to that is yes.
I dont know what to say about this book except
WOW. I didnt read Kings first book (The Dust of 100 Dogs) but Im tempted to
do so even though Im not interested in pirates.
This book is amazing, its just awesome. Magnificent!
I cant say enough about this book. I was so impressed
by the cover to begin with. (I didnt know what it meant but it sure does make
I found Vera as a NORMAL person. Shes not those
kinds of people who work hard to gain perfection. She is just NORMAL. She takes
things easily. She doesnt make a big deal out of everything. She is Ordinary,
but that makes her extraordinary. Shes
what Id call PERFECT (at least for me)! Because she is what she is and she
doesnt want to change that since shes VERA.
INVISIBLE VERA. No,
Charlie wasnt that bad either. But if he had
shared whatever he had in mind before anything happened, things might turn out
differently. Oh, how I long something wonderful to happen between the two. I dont
blame Charlie for anything& everything happens for a reason. Just like he
(Charlie) said, Vera deserve better!
Mr. Dietz, awesome guy. Cheap but awesome. I liked him a lot.
I liked every character from the book. Except, of
course, Mr. and Mrs. Khan. But whatever! We all have our own problems, and we
all have our reasons why we dont anything about them.
This book was unique. Vera was UNIQUE. The best
book I ever read.