Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Title: Please Ignore Vera Dietz
Author: A.S. King
Published: October, 2010
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books Books For Young Readers
Have you been searching for an amazing book to read? A book with substance? Humor? A book that has won awards but is still immanently readable? Have you been looking for a book that will change the way you think about life, in a way that's not sweetly-inspirational? What are you waiting for? Read Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

This book is many things.  It is a contemporary YA novel, a love story, a ghost story.  It's a book about destiny, about grief, about perspective. It's about Vera Dietz and Charlie Kahn, two best friends who are separated by the grave.

I read this book around a year ago, and when I look back, it's not the particulars of the plot I remember. What stays with the reader is the palpable emotions of the characters, the dark humor inlaid in the language, its quirky narrative design, and the overall quality of King's book. It is a character and language driven novel.

There are many narrators, but our primary is Vera.  She's an intelligent teenager and has the potential to go places, but she's weighed down by what feels like her unescapable destiny.

Well, if it’s as easy as catching my future from a blood relative, then I guess I’m due to be a drunk, pregnant, dropout stripper any day now.

I happen to love the narrative voice of intelligent teenagers.  Vera's favorite classes in school are Vocabulary and Modern Social Thought, which describes pretty well her style of narration.  When we meet Vera, she's coping with the death of her estranged, ex-best friend, Charlie, who she loved.  She happens to know a secret regarding an unfortunate event that occurred prior to his accidental death, and she is visited by his spectres (yes, plural) who urge her to clear his name.

Note: This is not a paranormal genre book.  Some might argue that the ghosts in this book give it a supernatural element, but unless missing someone severely is supernatural, then this book just portrays the way bereavement makes you feel insane.  However, it also gives the dead a chance to speak and narrative voice to a pagoda.
The first night it happened, I followed them into the strip mall parking lot. They were all stuffed into a silver-gray Honda—all thousand of them... When I followed them to the mall, they stopped outside Zimmerman’s Pet Store and all thousand of them got out, holding hands and two-dimensional, like cutout accordion dolls. They climbed into the front window with the black Labrador puppies and beckoned with flat, paperlike fingers. 
As for Charlie, it's usually a drag to read a book that deals heavily with death, but Charlie's character is so vivid and present, it's like he is merely separated from the living by a thin curtain.  He rivals Vera in regards to reader connection and identification.  Charlie, an eccentric, charismatic, and troubled young man, sells himself entirely too short and engages in extreme self-sabotage, which ultimately results in his early death.  His character starts out as an enigma, but is eventually fully unfolded.  He remains one of my favorite fictional characters.
The thing you don’t see while you’re still there on Earth is how easy it is to change your mind. When you’re in it and you’re mixed up with feelings, assumptions, influences, and misconceptions, things seem completely impossible to change. From here, you see that change is as easy as flicking a light switch in your brain.
Vera's father, Ken Dietz, is also a standout narrator.  In so many YA novels, parents are generalized presences, but King manages to make Ken a character in his own right.  In a novel about how the past affects the present and future, Ken's reminisces to his own teenage days and his struggles to overcome genetic alcoholism were crucial to the thematic makeup of the story.
When Vera turned sixteen, four years after Cindy Sindy left, I brought her up to the pagoda and flew paper airplanes with her. I asked her if she wanted to know the story of how the pagoda was built, and she said yes. So I told her, and it was like everything was right in my life again. I watched the planes soar down toward the city, and I felt redeemed and whole. I remember thinking,Kenny Dietz, you have finally grown up, son.
I estimate that I spent over $2,300 on self-help books, workshops, and videos to make myself into the man Cindy Sindy wanted me to be. But all it really took was seeing Vera all grown up—nearly the same age as her mother when we sat in the very same spot, doing the very same thing.
There are many opportunities to identify with characters in this novel, many instances to feel that nose-burn that preludes crying.  There are also many times where you'll smile and even laugh.  The entire time, you'll feel connected to what you're reading.  You'll grow in comprehension of King's message, as the story unfolds, and when you close the book, you'll feel as if you understand more about life and death than you did before.
Then, they are here. All thousand of them. Maybe a million. The field is wall-to-wall Charlies. They are glowing blue-white and I can hear them breathing. They exhale a word. Rest.

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