Sunday, September 22, 2013

Redeemed

Ah, the Printz medal. If a book has been awarded the Printz, even though it's just an honor book (shortlisted for the main award), then it's bound to have a few controversial themes. And A. S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz is anything but controversial. I know this is a cliche, but I think it's true and has to be said about King's wonderful young adult—this novel pushes the envelope.

Edgy, that's what Please Ignore Vera Dietz is. But it does have its flaws. Flaws which the reader might tolerate if only for the somewhat different storyline and narrative. So, who the heck is Vera Dietz and why the plea to ignore her? She's the novel's junior high school student protagonist. Vera is a character seeking redemption for her best friend, Charlie Kahn, who's recently died following a tragic incident involving the fire at the local pet shop.

Vera and Charlie have been best friends for so long, but something comes in the way in their friendship, specifically someone named Jenny who becomes Charlie's girlfriend. Vera is what we would call a, pardon the word, slut. She offers oral sex to Charlie who wisely refuses it. However, in an act of stupid revenge so typical of people her age, tells everyone at school that Charlie's father physically abuses her mother. Everything is blamed on Vera, as Charlie was made to believe. Charlie then tells everyone another secret involving Vera—that her mother was once a stripper.

Of course, everything spirals downhill from here. Vera's father a reformed alcoholic, is still hung up on the fact that his wife left them. Vera is probably headed toward the bleak path of alcoholism herself. Hey, if you were forced by your father to work your ass off (full time!) to save for college on top of maintaining an A average, then you'd probably drink yourself to death too. And it doesn't help that alcoholism does indeed run in Vera's family. But hats off to Vera! She decides one day to just simply stop and try to have a "normal" relationship with her father. Now I think that this is one of the novel's flaws. I was surprised that she could just stop. Just. Like. That.

If you're a junior high school student who's best friends with someone whom everyone thinks burned the town's beloved pet shop down and whose mother is actually a stripper, then you'd think that everyone should just ignore you. Something's nagging at Vera though—the thought that she should clear up Charlie's name concerning the fire. She owes it to herself, her dead best friend who she was in love with, and her best friend's family. In the end, she redeems Charlie's name, and when she does, she truly comes of age as she comes to terms with her father and her willingness to have control in her life.

A lot of readers may find it difficult to suspend their disbelief in some of the chapters of Please Ignore Vera Dietz. The chapters wherein we read Vera's thoughts are wonderfully candid. But those that feature the voice of the dead Charlie, the inanimate pagoda, and Vera's father require a bit of work. Sometimes, these chapters aren't believable enough. Plus, Vera's father shares flowcharts on how to deal with certain aspects of life, and these flowcharts feel iffy. They stick out of the novel like a sore thumb. If the point of these flowcharts is to show how methodical Vera's father is in making decisions, all right, they're fine then. Otherwise, they're just a waste of valuable page space.

I did enjoy Please Ignore Vera Dietz though. How ironic to have that title in the book, especially when the character of Vera Dietz, her aspirations, her insecurities, her addiction, her failed love life, and her angst are just so hard to ignore. They're quite compelling to read actually.

Read this book if:
  1. You like controversial young adult books.
  2. You have a best friend whom you were secretly in love with.
  3. You know the importance of redemption.

2 comments:

Louize Gonzales said...

Hello, Peter!
Edgy. That is interesting. Will add this to my TBR list, and see if I still have enough patience for teenage angst. hahaha :)

Peter S. said...

Hello, Louize! Edgy indeed!