Tag Archives: death

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it.  If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong with our lives, then I can’t see how we’ll ever make things right.” (p. 44)

Vera Dietz and Charlie Kahn have been best friends since they were four years old.  In a world where mothers left their families and husbands beat their wives, Vera and Charlie were there for each other, were solid for each other, kept each others secrets.  Until Charlie turned his back on Vera.  And then died.

Now Vera is facing the fallout from Charlie’s death.  She knows more than she’s letting on, but in order to tell the truth, she must first come to terms with everything that’s happened between her and Charlie-good and bad.  Even though she’s been told to ignore the ugly things in the world for most of her life, Vera knows that ignorance doesn’t make them go away.  It just makes you feel like a chump for not doing anything to help.

I absolutely loved this book.  From the first page, I was drawn into Vera’s story.  Her voice is vivid and full of personality; she’s quirky and smart and funny.  She’s also been hurt very deeply by the people who were supposed to love her.  Watching her experience that cruelty was literally heartbreaking.  Several times I found myself clutching my chest, fighting back tears for this girl.  But don’t think Vera’s some helpless damsel-in-distress; she’s tough in ways she shouldn’t have to be.

Vera tells us her story in alternating perspectives:  present and “history” – glimpses into her relationship with Charlie as they grew up.  There are also some interjections from “the dead kid”, AKA Charlie, Vera’s dad, and the Pagoda.  Although the sections told from Charlie’s and the Pagoda’s perspectives add a bit of fantastic realism to the story, they weren’t distracting or jarring as you might expect. 

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is as much about death and loss as it is about love and life.  It’s about letting go of the past so you can embrace your future.  It’s a complex and nuanced exploration about the complicated nature of love, whether it’s romantic or familial.  I think Vera put it best when she said:

“True love includes equal parts good and bad, but true love sticks around and doesn’t run off to Vegas with a podiatrist.” (p. 97)

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
Young Adult | 336 pages | October 2010 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 0375865861 | Library copy

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Printz Honor Award Winner, Young Adult Literature

We Were Here by Matt de la Pena (2009)

“Your whole life, man, it can change in one minute.” (p. 99)

No one knows this better than Miguel. One day he’s living with his mom and brother, Diego, in their Stockton California home and the next he’s in a group home with a bunch of stupid guys and a surfer dude counselor, Jaden, who keeps trying to talk to him about what happened. But Miguel can’t talk about what happened. Not with Jaden; not with anyone. After getting in a fight with the skinny, bald dude named Mong, Miguel decides to steer clear of everyone in the house. He is completely and utterly alone.

When he awakes one night to find Mong standing over his bed, Miguel is surprised by Mong’s request. He wants Miguel to run away with him to Mexico. At first Miguel is hesitant, but he soon realizes he has nothing to live for anymore, and therefore nothing to lose. Miguel’s roommate, Rondell, joins their motley crew of fugitives.

“People always think there’s this huge hundred-foot-high barrier that separates doing good from doing bad. But there’s not. There’s nothing. There’s not even a little anthill. You just take one baby step in any direction and you’re already there. You’ve done something awful. And your life is changed forever.” (p. 119)

What follows is a compelling, at times existential, story about 3 boys struggling to deal with the lots they’ve been dealt. Even though Miguel, Mong and Rondell are considered criminals, the circumstances they’ve had to face are more difficult than most people would deal with in a lifetime. It was difficult for me to get into the book at first, but as time went on, I found myself drawn in deeper and deeper into Miguel’s world. He is a complex character (though I found his voice inconsistent at times) who has done a horrible thing but is not a horrible person-although he doesn’t figure this out until the end of the book. We Were Here is about mistakes, consequences, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

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Filed under Book Reviews, GSTBA 2010-2011 Reader Assignment, Young Adult Literature

Sleepless by Thomas Fahy (2009)

“A few days after the first time you walk in your sleep, you kill someone.  That’s how the end begins.”  (p. 4)

Shortly after a school trip to the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans, strange things begin happening to some of the students at Saint Opportuna High School.  They’re murdering each other…in their sleep. 

When Emma Montgomery and Jake Hardale begin having nightmares, they are desperate to figure out what is pushing them towards these horrific acts of violence.  Sleep-deprived and terrified, Emma and Jake must get to the bottom of this crisis before someone else ends up dead.

Told in alternating points of view, Sleepless is a fast-paced thriller.  I was concerned when it was classified as “horror”, but it’s more mystery than blood and gore.  Even though it’s short, Fahy does a great job of drawing you into the story and making the characters believable.  It’s no surprise to me that Sleepless was dubbed an AlA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

I read this for the 2012 Garden State Teen Book Award ballot and it gets my vote!

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So Shelly by Ty Roth (2011)

“We’ve reduced the experience of ‘being in love’ to that which can be summarized in a pop song or portrayed in a chick flick.  The we’re angry and disillusioned with love disappoints.  Here’s a little secret:  love always disappoints.  It’s the conscious choice to love someone or not to love someone, despite the disappointment , that makes it beautiful.

And it is beautiful.  I know that now.” (p. 2)

So Shelly explores the lives of the famous Romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John Keats as if they were teenagers living today.  Roth uses the sordid details from their lives to create the narrative for his debut novel.  John Keats, the kid preoccupied with death after losing both of his parents in quick succession and who is now watching his brother die of TB, is our narrator, but don’t be fooled. This story is about Shelley and Gordon; their oddly inter-dependent relationship with one another, their dysfunctional relationships with their families, and the way their blatant self-absorption leads ultimately to their downfalls.

Love and lust, faithfulness and betrayal, and life and death all play key roles in Roth’s story.  Shelley and Gordon are larger-than-life and rather unsympathetic.  It’s difficult to really feel for them; Shelley, because of her pathetic infatuation with Gordon and Gordon for, well, just about everything he does.  Despite this disconnect, the plot moves quickly enough that you want to keep reading (except for Gordon’s time in Greece-that part seemed out of place and I don’t think it necessarily contributed to the integrity of the plot).  I also felt Keats’ role in the novel was superfluous.  It wasn’t entirely believable that Shelley would divulge the type of secrets she did to him and the fact that he was so removed from the action added to the disconnect between reader and characters (Roth explains his choice of using Keats as the narrator in the Afterward-after reading that, it made a bit more sense to me).  Having said that, I do think teens who are drawn to dark, Gothic tales will enjoy this book.

I enjoyed reading the Afterward as much as the novel itself.  There, Roth gives us some brief biographical information about the real Shelly, Byron and Keats.  While some of the events in the novel seem outrageous, we learn in the Afterward that these things really happened.  On his blog, Roth expresses concern that he may face criticism about So Shelly‘s “brutal honesty regarding sexuality”.  I think the historical base for his novel would provide some justification for inclusion of said details, although some of the action may have been more palatable had the characters been a little older.  It is interesting to think, though, that if we perceive such choices as scandalous today, how much more so they must have been in the poets’ own time.

This is an ARC slated for release in February 2011.

Link to Ty Roth’s blog.

See Tattooed Books review.

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Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (2010)

Caitlin Smith’s world has been turned upside down. Her older brother, Devon, has been the victim of a horrific school shooting. Devon was the person who helped Caitlin make sense of the world. As a ten-year-old girl with Asperger Syndrome, Caitlin has a hard time understanding people and situations around her. She relied on Devon to be her guide on the complicated and messy journey of life. But now it’s just Caitlin and her father, who is having difficulty coping with his son’s death. At least Caitlin has Mrs. Brook, her counselor at school. But Mrs. Brook doesn’t seem to ‘Get It’ that Caitlin needs to find ‘Closure’, not make friends. When Caitlin comes up with a plan to finish a project Devon and her father began, she sets her small family and the larger community on a path to healing.

Erskine reveals the need for early intervention as her motivation for writing Mockingbird in the Author’s Note. Inspired by the Virginia Tech shooting, Erskine melds two distinct issues (school shootings and Asperger’s) into a thought-provoking novel for middle-grades. Over the course of the novel, we see many instances where Caitlin misunderstands or is misunderstood by her peers. Caitlin, however, has people in her life to guide her. There are many others that may have no one. By providing insight and explanation behind Caitlin’s behavior, she hopes the reader will be closer to understanding the mind of someone who is considered an outsider.

Read Nicki’s Review.

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