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Standout Book: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
I've had a really lucky run of finding amazing books lately! This one was no exception. While the description was intriguing enough to get on my list, I wasn't entirely sold. Actually, I only picked it up because it was the first one on my list I spotted at the library, but I'm glad I found it!

Overview: This is the story of Vera Dietz and her friendship with next door neighbor Charlie. That's really what it is about. Of course the back talks about Vera working to clear Charlie's name after some unnamed disaster that subsequently ruined his reputation and caused his death. This, much like I said about To All The Boys I've Loved Before, is a piece of the puzzle, but in my opinion not the main point in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it is more about the expansion and contraction between the friendship of a boy and a girl over time. Told both in the present and the past, starting at age 11, we see it grow and change until the boy dies in unexpected ways. This makes a much better story than the back originally describes.

Characters: The characters were all incredibly believable and drove the plot giving it a complexity that elevated it to the next level. The two main characters are Vera and Charlie. They are both determined to escape their destiny of becoming their parents which drives most of the actions.  There are also chapters written from the point of view of Mr. Dietz (Vera's father) and the pagoda (an interesting personification of an inanimate object).
Vera is the primary main character, and the focal point of the story. Her mother is an ex-stripper who ran away with a doctor to Vegas when she was twelve. Her father was an alcoholic. She spends her high school career trying to fly under the radar so people don't find out about her mother's embracing past. The only one who knows is Charlie. She keeps her grades perfect and keeps a full time job (at the demand of her father who is also set on doing everything in his power to stop the past). Vera gets frustrated by her father's lack of faith in her despite never giving him ammunition to believe otherwise. Her and her father's relationship is a major focal point almost as much as her relationship with Charlie. Even though she occasionally indulges in her known vices (the occasional vodka cooler and a bit of flirtation with an older guy at the pizza shop), Vera knows what is right and always finds the safe balance. By the same token, it was what made her want to save Charlie from his downward spiral.
Charlie, even though he is dead through the whole book, is a well developed and understandable character. His father abuses his wife and there is always the assumption that no matter what, Charlie will end up that way too. Despite his best attempts to fight destiny, he becomes addicted to cigarettes at eleven and starts to get involved with sketchy people. Eventually the divide between Vera and him grows till he falls completely into the wrong crowd that exacerbates all of his bad tendencies till it became fatal. Through effective flashbacks, we see Charlie start to break down starting from age eleven till his death at age eighteen. He becomes a highly effective character, and we get the chance to understand his actions through the slow downward spiral.
The supporting cast is also remarkable. Vera's father is a self-help book addict who still grapples with his wife leaving him and is sometimes misguided in his attempts to keep Vera from all the mistakes he made. Jenny Flick, the bad girl leader is also a plausible character who furthers the plot perfectly. Then there's James, the caring, nice coworker who has good intentions but unfortunately doesn't appear this way from the outside. The other characters peppered through the novel each represent their own problems in society in an honest, real way, but it does not come off as sets of stereotypes.

Plot: The story is split between antidotes from the past, Vera's current perspective, and small interjections from other characters occasionally. We follow the current time (the aftermath) and in each section, a year from the past starting at eleven and heading toward the present. This storytelling and almost two intersecting plots give the ending so much more of an impact. We see Vera and her dad coping with their mother leaving as well as Vera and Charlie growing close and being split apart. The ending is just beautiful and entirely satisfying to the story.

Writing: A.S. King managed to take nearly every element that tanks a story and combine them beautifully and effectively to propel the story forward. She used multiple perspectives (Vera's dad, Vera, "The Dead Kid", and even the pagoda {a favorite hangout spot in the tiny town}) to propel the story forward. And all of the prospectives work! (Even the personification of an inanimate object which I thought I would hate for the pure ridiculousness of it!) Also, King writes the story in two different timelines almost. There are so many flashbacks that you have one narrative creeping forward in the present and one in the past telling Vera and Charlie's stories from age eleven on. Even with all of these storytelling elements and what might be jarring switches, I never got lost, confused, or annoyed, and it made for a beautiful final product. Finally, one of her central characters was dead! Of course, this is not the first book I've read that has done this. But it is the first that did it and used the state of the character as an asset. Most of the time, readers are expected to feel something for characters who died before the book even started through dry flashbacks and memories. You get the basic personalities of the characters, but they are always flat. I haven't ever brought myself to particularly care for any of these dead characters before, and, as a result, I start to care less for the living ones too. Not here at all. King beautifully shows the downward spiral and the slow deterioration through her flashbacks beautifully that made the ending moving. She made me care about a character that I knew wouldn't make it through. And that is all the more impressive. Also, she is able to use the character of Charlie and his coping with his set  destiny to contrast with how Vera fights her "set destiny."

So, in conclusion, this was a beautiful, raw, honest, and compelling novel that deserves five stars for pulling together and pulling off the amazing writing feat of combining all those elements!
-Lauren

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