King, A.S. Please Ignore Vera Dietz (2010). 323 Pages. Random House. $16.99
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?
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?
The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn’t. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.
There’s a lot going on in this book, yet it works so well together that it’s not overwhelming. There are flashbacks, point-of-view shifts, moments of contemplation, or difficult conversations. This book is a tragedy to its core; it begins with a funeral, continues with difficult introspection and self-exploration, and concludes on a note which is only slightly higher than the beginning.
Vera Dietz has spent most of her life trying to fly under the radar, to avoid notice, and avoid her destiny. She doesn’t have close relationships, after both her mother and Charlie betrayed her, she’s not looking to be close to anyone. She just wants to move on, to hold onto her job and keep her grades up so she can afford to take some community college classes when she graduates high school. Unfortunately for Vera, she has a lot to come to terms with before she can move on. She still hasn’t faced her mother’s departure, she never really accepted Charlie’s betrayal, and his death is real to her, but so is his ghost. She’s hiding behind vodka, and losing herself in work.
There are chapters from the point of view of the Pagoda, or Charlie, and sometimes Vera’s father. (His chapters are made all the more excellent by his flow-charts).They are beautifully balanced, and all of them add a little more depth to the story, building upon what has just happened, or what is still coming, and creating this utterly perfect, utterly sad story.
Once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. I felt like Vera’s voice was perfect, and I couldn’t stand waiting to find out what had happened to Charlie, and how she knew about it, and why she hadn’t yet gone to the police with her knowledge, and why the police were involved at all, and what was going to happen with Vera and her Father, or work, or school, or any number of other things. Even at the end, everything is not tied up in one neat little conclusion, but it’s the sort of ending which is still somehow satisfying despite not being a neat closure. There is no happily-ever-after or anything, but it does end on a hopeful– if still a bit bleak– note.
It’s tough to read a book about death, especially one which is so very realistic. There are no flights of fancy, this is contemporary, real-world YA, and that makes it more tragic, and real. It gets a 5/5 for being just about as perfect as it could possibly have been.