Please Ignore Vera Dietz was recently named a 2011 Printz Honor title and Edgar Award nominee, among other accolades. I would have read it anyway, because I was very impressed with A. S. King's previous novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs (reviewed here).
Like Dust of 100 Dogs, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a complex, unconventional novel. It requires a certain degree of effort on the part of the reader, and rewards that effort handsomely. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age novel (with a few other parts thrown in that are more difficult to classify).
The primary narrator is (as you might guess), Vera Dietz, a girl whose only goal is to make it through high school with her head down, receiving as little notice as possible. Intermittent chapters are narrated by: 1) Vera's dad, Ken; 2) her dead ex-best friend Charlie; and 3) "the enormous, glowing, gaudy pagoda that watches over" Vera's small town. Yes, a building (or "monstrosity", depending on who you ask) is one of the narrators. Yes, a dead kid is another narrator. If you can't get over these things, this book is not for you. But I, for one, found the narration by a tourist attraction hilarious.
The main story takes place during Vera's senior year, as she's coming to terms with Charlie's recent death. Numerous flashbacks are interwoven through the book, gradually illuminating Vera's all-consuming and eventually broken relationship with Charlie, and the mystery around Charlie's death. Vera's relationships with her dad, her missing mother, a cool older guy from work, and, well, alcohol, are also explored.
There are also (in Ken Dietz's chapters) occasional (clever and funny) flow charts. I love a novel that includes flow charts!
A. S. King's writing is a deft mix of funny and dark. Some of Vera and Charlie's experiences are tragic, but they both retain a certain degree of wry humor. King's characterization, especially of Vera, is spot-on. I feel like I could pick her out of a crowd (not that she would like that!). And here's a couple of sentences that sum up Charlie beautifully:
"Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed. Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords." (Page 98)
And here's Vera's dad:
"He rested his chin on his hand. I could see the guilty thoughts tumbling down his wrinkled forehead." (Page 165)
The shifting viewpoints make it possible to see the characters as they see themselves, and as others see them. Including Charlie's perspective also adds to the mystery, as clues to his downfall are sprinkled carefully through the book.
I don't know what more to say. I think that Please Ignore Vera Dietz is brilliant. Often when I review a book I like to close by recommending other titles to read with it. But Please Ignore Vera Dietz is in a class by itself. Highly recommended for older teens and adults.
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).