Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a great book, and I am not just saying that because (1) I know the writer and she will be giving an interview on this very site on November 2, or (2) because it takes place in the town I grew up in, or as A. S. King reminds me, a “fictionalized” version of that town. (For example, in the “real” town, the streets, when lit at night and viewed from a mountain road, spell the word SHIT, which for disaffected teens like me and Vera was an apt metaphor for a place we wanted to vacate. But, like Vera, I have come to appreciate the place more. I mean, we’re a southeastern Pennsylvania town with a neon Pagoda perched above us! How cool is that?).
As the title alerts us, much of this book is about the things we ignore and shouldn’t. Vera has been told to ignore a lot in her seventeen years, particularly the domestic violence taking place next door, where her best friend and first love Charlie Kahn lives. When the story takes place, Charlie has died and Vera wrestles with guilt over his death and what might have been if she hadn’t ignored his final messages to her after their friendship grew estranged, if she or her father had called the police just once when they heard Mr. Kahn breaking Mrs. Kahn’s arm, if she could have kept Charlie alive somehow.
It’s about Vera doing her very best to be ignored by her classmates because:
- she is a smart girl irritated with the idiots around her who can’t identify Florida on a map but who doesn’t want to look smart enough to be noticed,
- her mom was a stripper who left her when she was twelve,
- her best friend has taken up with some awful people who throw dog crap at her,
- and that best friend has died and reappears in multiples, replicated like tissue paper images of himself, and wants her to forgive him and clear his name.
Flying under the radar seems like a good idea. In fact, it seems like the only way to survive.
The story follows, with flashbacks, Vera as she grapples with all of this and finds a way to make peace with her town, with herself, with her family, and with Charlie, all under the watchful eye of the Pagoda, who has seen more than it could ever tell and thus acquired, despite its ersatz tackiness, a kind of brutal wisdom. The book has been described by some reviewers as “harrowing”, and it’s that, for sure, but there is also a great deal of hope, redemption, and love here. It presents a very real world and the very real problems of young adults, especially those inherited, legacies of violence, alcoholism, poverty, and pain. But it also shows how all of this can be overcome and, in the end, a kind of peace, even justice, can be found.
So far, this second YA offering from A. S. King — her first is The Dust of 100 Dogs — has garnered 3 starred reviews (Kirkus, PW and Booklist) and a highlighted review from VOYA. Expect to hear more about this book!
Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 12, 2010