A Review of Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King
by REBECCA, December 9, 2013
A.S. King is one of those authors who’s been on my to-read list for years but who, somehow, I never got around to. On a library run to pick up my reserved books, I saw Please Ignore Vera Dietz‘s vibrant green cover sticking out in an otherwise underwhelming sea of picked-through YA (ah, the agony and the ecstasy of a neighborhood branch of the illustrious Free Library of Philadelphia) and grabbed it. I am so glad I did, especially because I have an ARC of King’s new book, Reality Boy, which (upon peeking at the first chapter) looks freaking awesome.
Vera Dietz is reeling from the death of her best friend, Charlie Kahn. That would be bad enough, but Vera was also kind of in love with Charlie, and he had been acting like a beast to her for months before he died. Now, she can barely make it through a shift as a “pizza delivery technician” without the vodka she keeps under her seat. That would be bad enough, but now Vera keeps seeing Charlie. And he wants her to do something for him.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz is told mainly from Vera’s perspective. She’s smart, independent, and very much grieving for Charlie—the loss of him because of his death and the loss of his friendship that she didn’t fully understand. Vera lives with her father (her mother left a long time ago) and, while they love each other, they both have trouble expressing themselves. Her father expresses his love by trying to make Vera be as responsible and practical as possible (he insists that she work a full-time job while going to school so that she won’t end up a pregnant teen stuck in this small town, like her mother was), but Vera uses how busy she is to avoid dealing with Charlie’s death and the emotional mess it left behind.
The narrative structure is one that I really like: we begin at Charlie’s funeral and then the past is revealed, starting from Vera and Charlie’s childhood and moving forward, working toward the revelation of the events surrounding Charlie’s death. This allows for great character development and builds suspense in to an introspective and psychological story. There is a real mystery here, too, though: why did Charlie stop hanging out with Vera and become friends with the Detentionheads? And what really happened the night Charlie died? Only Vera knows, but she’s kept it secret—until now.
One of my favorite things about Please Ignore Vera Dietz is the way King plays with genre. I mentioned that Vera sees Charlie (multiple Charlies, actually, as if he were a bunch of paper dolls). The chapters that are from Charlie’s point of view are in the present—that is, after he is dead. There are also a few brief chapters from the perspective of the Pagoda where some of Vera’s most significant memories happened. From this perspective, we get a long view of the history of the town, since the Pagoda has been there for generations.
None of these narrative choices shift the book out feeling like contemporary realism; rather, they function to open the story up, making it less insular to Vera. The few chapters told from Vera’s father’s perspective do this in particular. It’s rare in YA books to have an adult perspective (especially a parent’s) alongside the protagonist’s, but in this case, it’s poignant because it shows that Vera’s father, though he loves her, doesn’t really have any more answers than she does, even though he reads Buddhist self-help books and has drafted flow charts of life choices to convince himself he does.
Beautifully written and understated, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a really solid contemporary YA read that confirms the rightness A.S. King’s over-representation on my to-read list. I’m doubly excited for Reality Boy now, too.
Last Night I Sang to the Monster, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2009). When Zach wakes up in rehab he has no idea how he got there . . . or where he was before. How can he figure it out when he doesn’t want to remember? Last Night I Sang to the Monster is a gorgeous book that also works through a psychological mystery. My full review of Last Night I Sang to the Monster is HERE.
Shine, by Lauren Myracle (2011). Shine begins a week after Cat’s best friend, Patrick, is gay bashed and left for dead at the gas station where he works in their small, North Carolina town. While Patrick lies in a coma in a nearby hospital and the police do nothing, Cat sets about solving the mystery of who hurt her friend, and reveals a lot about the town and its inhabitants in the process.
procured from: the library