Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King2010; Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she's 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 anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Please Ignore Vera Dietz is one of those book where after the first few pages you understand why it appeals to awards committees. There's no set formula for award-winning books or even a way to describe why I knew this particular one would garner high praise. You just know it when you see it.
You have to work a little bit to warm up to Please Ignore Vera Dietz. The plot is slow. It's actually rather unimportant. The characters that set this book apart.
The main narrator is Vera. It's rare to see a YA protagonist so richly drawn. Horribly damaged. Mourning the recent death of her best friend. Grieving over her mother's abandonment and notorious past. Dealing with her now-sober, self-help, high-energy dad's eccentricities and expectations. She just doesn't care about anything anymore. And yet she does. She cares and feels everything. She wants to escape her past, but she also wants to just slide. I loved the contrasts. I loved that Vera made mistakes in this book. She was doing some really stupid things, yet I completely understood her mindset. It seemed just like how a real teenager in her situation would act.
Vera's dead friend Charlie is another key character. We hear stories from his perspective and also from Vera's. Vera is the only person (other than those involved) who knows how he died and spends the book deciding whether she has the courage to come out of the woodwork with her secret.
While the Vera/Charlie plot seems like the focal point of the book, I thought the best and ultimately most important part was Vera's relationship with her dad. The book is also told from his perspective. He's desperately trying to control everything - his life, Vera's life, the world in general. He's a good man who desperately wants to keep Vera from making his mistakes. I loved seeing their relationship change during this book. His flow-charts were a highlight.
My favorite character was the pagoda. That's right. One of the narrators of this story is a giant pagoda that's been in the middle of town for 100 years. It was unintentionally (well, probably intentionally) hilarious. And also an important symbol - that life goes on, people change, but humanity is always the same.
I appreciated Please Ignore Vera Dietz for its literary value. It was perhaps more thought-provoking and touching than fun, but there is definitely room in my repertoire for books that require some effort.