#8: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
I decided to read Please Ignore Vera Dietz this year because I needed an audiobook. Well, I guess I didn’t need an audiobook, but I have this thing called An Addictive Personality. Fall of 2013 was all about Overdrive and whatever books Overdrive made available to me on a particular day. One day, it was Please Ignore Vera Dietz.
Vera is an only child living with her single dad. Her best friend and next door neighbor, Charlie, just died, but they hadn’t been friends for awhile. She was mad at him. He was mad at her. They were avoiding each other and then Charlie did something unspeakable awful and Vera wrote him off and now he’s dead. She is grieving, she is guilty, she is still mad, she is just trying to get by. But sometimes she sees Charlie – lots of Charlies, actually – and they say he didn’t do the thing she thinks he did. That Vera needs to clear his name.
Understandably, Vera doesn’t exactly know how to process all this. So she gets angry. She slacks off. She gets drunk.
Here’s an unsupported hypothesis about YA lit for you – YA realism, when done well, defies all attempts to make it sound interesting. Challenges you, the reader, to describe what happened in the book. Things happen to Vera, yes. She makes pizzas at work. She has tense conversations with her traditional father. She tries to date. But at the end of this novel, I wasn’t marveling over what just happened. I was marveling over how it happened. Arguably, Vera’s story is about her grief – how it manifests, how she can or can’t soothe it, what can be healed and what wounds are there for good. But Vera isn’t walking around, trying to assuage herself, trying to figure out what it all means. All of the meaning is simmering under the surface of the text, bubbling over into Vera’s thoughts and actions. It’s all show, no tell, and it’s brilliantly done.
So I can’t really tell you what happened to Vera – because the book defies summary, because I am crummy at summary, because this could get spoiler-y – but I sure can tell you what I loved. Vera’s mouthy candor. Her visceral pain. How she doesn’t stifle an emotion or apologize. But then, midway through the book, I realized that at school and with her peers, Vera is none of that. “Please ignore Vera Dietz,” is a mantra, to defend herself and her family and even Charlie from judgment. I loved how Charlie is the least attractive love interest of YA lit. He can’t afford nice clothes. He doesn’t like to wash his hair. He’s an outcast, just like Vera, and she knows she shouldn’t even be friends with him but he’s Charlie. I loved the multiple perspectives, how King just ignores every rule about what a YA book should be and goes for it. YA books shouldn’t include first person narration from adults… nay, parents? Too bad. Here’s a chapter narrated by an inanimate object, for ya too. Love love loved Vera’s dad’s chapters, where Vera’s idea of her father as stoic, unwavering, cold, and unfair is completely upended. In the hands of a lesser writer, chapters from a parent’s perspective may be distancing, but King makes it work. Makes it work so well, actually, that Vera’s relationship with her dad stands out to me as one of the most interesting, complex, and touching parent-child relationships in YA. Really, they just slayed me.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz wasn’t the kind of read that had me looking for excuses to plug into my headphones, but once the book ended, I just left with a “that was a damn good book” kind of vibe. Like I should have been taking notes, because this is how YA realism is done.