"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, June 13, 2011

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

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Summary: A teenager is haunted by the ghost of her former best friend.

If you liked Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, you'll likely enjoy this book simply because the basic plotlines are so similar.

A teenage girl suffers the loss of her best friend, is haunted by the ghost of that best friend, and then starts spiraling into self-destruction. In this book, Vera and Charlie have been life-long friends. But Vera never mentions Charlie's obvious abusive home life ever to him, even though they are next door neighbors.  Vera has always had a crush on Charlie and fantasized about their life together but it's obvious to us readers that Charlie will be caught in the endless cycle of abuse and poverty.

The book opens the day of Charlie's funeral. Vera is the only one who can see the ghost of Charlie smirking at her. In fact, Charlie is the only one smiling during the funeral since everyone believes Charlie is responsible for setting the animal clinic on fire and then dying of alcohol poisoning afterwards. Charlie - or his ghost - makes Vera listen to the songs he likes on the radio, they appear in multitudes to Vera but don't say anything.

Despite the fact that Vera's dad Ken is an alcoholic and that Charlie died of an alcohol overdose, Vera starts drinking herself. The fact that Vera is a pizza delivery driver with a drinking problem seems to add to the shock we are supposed to feel. The title is basically Vera's tactic to get through high school - Please ignore Vera Dietz. If she can get through high school, she will be happy, she thinks. It's also Ken Dietz's philosophy - Ignore it and it will bother you less. This applies to everything in his life - from his wife and Vera's mother leaving them, to his neighbor beating his wife and Charlie almost every night, to Vera's blossoming womanhood and sexuality, to the hopelessness of his life.

Style-wise, I dreaded each chapter. There are multiple narrators, and each chapter might be a different time period narrated by a different character  - either Vera, Charlie or Vera's dad Ken. Oh and sometimes, the freaking pagoda that watches over the town might narrate a chapter. Wha?

We evetually find out why Vera and Charlie stopped being friends, and I came to realize that Vera had idolized Charlie far beyond what he deserved and for much longer. There's also unspoken sexual abuse that Charlie experiences, but somehow everything is neatly tied up in a bow, and gets solved and resolved because Vera is so self-possessed and mature for her age.

In addition to this being too tidy of a book, with the annoying choice of different narrators (really, the pagoda POV added nothing to the plot), it was just sad and miserable, with nothing uplifting or heartwarming or even funny. I like television shows with teen angst, and this book had it in spades, but I forced myself to finish it, and in the end, remained unsatisfied.

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