Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King

I read this one based on a recommendation from The Perpetual Page-Turner.  Jamie’s blog is new-to-me, but has already moved on up to my list of favorite blogs and bloggers.  Her taste is very interesting and eclectic, so when she started talking about Please Ignore Vera Dietz on Twitter and it made her top books of 2010 survey, I knew I had to read it.  Pair that with the fact that it was lounging on the library shelves, just waiting for me to pick it up, well, it was just meant to be!  Plus, her review of Please Ignore Vera Dietz is just so clever, I could never hope to top it.

Vera Dietz’s best friend Charlie has died.  But worse than that, right before he died, he did something to make her hate him.  As Vera says, “If you think your best friend dying is a bitch, try your best friend dying  after he screws you over.  It’s a bitch like no other” (7).   And that kind of frank language is just one reason to love Vera Dietz.  She’s honest and flawed, a perfect narrator for her imperfections.  Vera Dietz does not sugar coat or patronize and I loved it for it.

This is the kind of book you read in one sitting, because there is  a mystery, but also because the mystery is not the center of the novel.  I read Vera Dietz in one sitting because I loved the relationship between Vera and her father and the way it developed.  Like any relationship, it has its ups and downs, but is one based on love and respect.  It was such a healthy portrayal of a parent-child relationship, something that is unfortunately rare in novels.

I liked the different perspectives in the novel.  Though it is mostly told from Vera’s point of view, her father, Charlie and a community landmark (the Pagoda) all have their own parts of the novel to narrate.  And I know that sounds weird and at first I didn’t understand or like that the Pagoda was narrating sections, but looking back on it it was kind of funny.  And that’s what’s so remarkable about this book – it deals with incredibly heavy topics, but it is also humorous.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz reminded me a lot of Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee for a lot of reasons.  Though Say the Word deals with GLBT issues, both main characters are young women, unhinged by a recent death, who turn to alcohol to dull their sorrow.  Though I loved both novels, I loved Vera Dietz slightly more because it dealt with the alcohol and, as I have mentioned, the positive father-daughter relationship.   One of my biggest problems with Say the Word was that the main character drinks and drives and there are no consequences.  Beyond that, she doesn’t even think it’s wrong.  Here, the same thing happens, and even though Vera never truly gets in trouble for drinking and driving, she acknowledges that what she was doing was wrong and that is so important to me in a novel like this.

But above all, I loved Please Ignore Vera Dietz because of Vera Dietz.  She’s such a great narrator.  I mean, there’s a chapter, at the beginning of the novel, entitled, “You’re Wondering Where My Mother Is” that begins like this:

“My mother left us when I was twelve.  She found a man who was not as parsimonious as my father and they moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, which is two thousand five hundred miles away.  She doesn’t visit.  She doesn’t call.  She sends me a card on my birthday with fifty dollars in it, which my father nags me about until I finally go to the bank and deposit it.  And so, for all six years she’s been gone, I have $337 to show for having a mother.

Dad says that thirty-seven bucks is good interest.  He doesn’t see the irony in that.  He doesn’t see the word interest as anything not connected to money because he’s an accountant and to him, everything is a number.

I think $37 and no mother and not visits or phone calls is shitty interest.” (13)

See?  Heartbreaking and funny.  How is that even possible?  But King pulls it off.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Perpetual Page-Turner, Booking Mama, The Story Siren, Reviewer X, The Book Lady’s Blog,  Presenting Lenore, Sarah’s Random Musings all wrote posts on Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Did you?  Please leave your link in the comments and I’ll add it here.


Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Best Friends

Oh, Top Ten Tuesday, how I love you!  Because, who doesn’t love a list?  This week is to list our literary best friends, the people from the books we’ve read.

1. Mena from Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande – I have shouted my love of this book from the rooftops and I really wish I could be friends with Mena in real life.  She’s stands up for what she believes in, even if she doesn’t really feel like a hero, or even very brave.  Everyone in her small town, including her parents and her school, turn against her, but she stands by what she did.

2. Cat from Fat Cat by Robin Brande – But Mena isn’t the only wonderful girl that Brande has written about that I want to be friends with – there’s also Cat.  Cat, overweight and an over achiever, turns herself into a science experiment when she eats only what early hominids would eat.  She discovers herself along the way and might fall in love, too.  Weight is such a taboo topic in literature, heavy characters are either funny or tragic, or they lose a lot of weight and suddenly become happy or, the opposite, depressed.  If a character is overweight, it defines them.  Yes, Fat Cat focuses a lot on Cat’s weight, but that is never, ever what defines her.

3. Leelee from Say the Last Word by Jeannine Garsee – Leelee was such a good friend to Shawna, I wanted to be her friend too.

4. Gertrude from Runaways by Brian Vaughn – Gertrude is bad ass.  Seriously, there is no other word to describe her.  She and her friends, children of evil villains, vow to do good by their parents’ wrongs.  Gertrude’s powers involve being mentally connected with a velociraptor.  Like I said, bad ass.

5. Marcelo from Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork – Who wouldn’t want to be friends with Marcelo?

6. Miranda from When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – I loved Miranda, flaws and all.  I would have loved to have a best friend just like her when I was her age.  I did a really awful job reviewing this book when I read it, so please just go out and read it.  But make sure you read A Wrinkle in Time first.

7. Skim from Skim by Mariko Tamaki – I really appreciate it when I find an overweight girl in a YA novel that I can relate to.  I was bullied for my size in elementary and middle school and Skim is under the same pressure.  I wish I’d had a friend like Skim.

8.  Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – Does a dog count?  I think so.  I loved this book, everything about it, but especially Enzo.  What I wouldn’t give for a dog like Enzo!

9.  Ella from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – I read Ella Enchanted so often when I was younger, I felt like Ella was a friend of mine.  Full of spunk that she doesn’t even know she has, Ella is a perfect role model.  The movie version of this book is an atrocity (even though I love Anne Hathaway).

10.  Meg and Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – This is probably the book that shaped me as a reader more than any other.  I already feel like I know Meg and Charles Wallace better than I know some in real life friends, so I thought they would be a perfect ending to this  list.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books that Made You Cry

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday list is near and dear to my heart – books that make you cry!  Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I tend to let the waterworks flow when it comes to anything that is remotely sad.  That Kleenex commercial where everyone talks about their sadnesses?  Yup, made me cry.  That phone commercial where the couple falls in love and their son becomes president?  Might have shed a tear or two.  Every Lifetime movie ever made? Forget about it.  When it comes to books, I’m a little more discerning.  Only certain books have really made me cry buckets, but here they are.

Note: Yes, this means I have returned from Spain!  I will be posting all about it soon!  Once I get all my pictures in order.  Oh, friends I have some stories to tell you!


1. If I Stay by Gayle Foreman – This book didn’t just make me cry, it made me sob.  I sobbed unrelenting buckets of tears, all the while trying to remain very very quiet because everyone in the house was still sleeping.  If I Stay is about Mia, a girl who has a wonderful life with her wonderful family and boyfriend.  Except for when, on an afternoon drive, her mother, father and brother are killed in a car accident that leaves her in a coma, but still conscious of her surroundings.  Mia is left with a choice: should she stay, and live in this new world she doesn’t understand that doesn’t include her family, or should she join her family?  And I know that description sounds trite, but this book is full of absolutely wonderful moments that make the loss of Mia’s family unbearable.  My review of this book is clearly pitiful because I did not once mention how much it made me cry.

2. Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee – I read this book for Nerds Heart YA and it made it all the way to the final round!  Though it was runner-up and not the winner of the whole tournament, this book is one that everyone should read.  Shawna’s mom leaves her father for another woman and Shawna never forgives her.  In the first few chapters, Shawna’s mother dies and she is left with all sorts of questions about what happened between her mother and father, not to mention an entirely new family.  This book is touching and real  and often heartbreaking, but it’s a wonderful story.

3. Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee – This book is bound to make anyone cry, about a precocious young boy whose grandfather dies when they go on a walk together.  Anu tries to understand his grandfather’s death by becoming closer to the gods.  This book is seriously amazing and paired with the fact that I read it shortly after losing my own grandmother, I cried, a lot.

4. The Untelling by Tayari Jones – Jones’s lovely novel about a woman who is trying to have a baby is perfect.  I loved every single thing about it, including the connection I felt with Aria.  Her situation brought me to tears quite a few times.

5. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb – I have a lot of bones to pick with Mr. Lamb, but the first 100 or so pages of this book that described, through Lamb’s unique fictional lens, the tragedy of Columbine absolutely shattered me.  I didn’t stop crying and finished the rest of this 700-page doorstop in two days.

6. City of Thieves by David BanioffCity of Thieves is a comedy, so perhaps it’s a bit strange that it is appearing on this list, but it is exactly because of its humor that the ending of this book is so tragic and tear-worthy.

7. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters – I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this book before.  I loved this book to pieces and I think it is the best thing that Sarah Waters has ever written (yes, it’s better than Fingersmith).  I don’t know that I thought that at the time I read it, but since then it has made it possibly into my top ten list.  This story is so sad, like most of Waters’s stories, so you’re going to go into it prepared, but it still made me cry.  I listened to it on audio, so that was awkward.  I guess I could always say I was crying because of the traffic.

8. Kitchen by Banana Yohsimoto – Go read this book.  Just do it.  It defies description and is just amazing.  Also might make you cry.

9. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patric Ness – I’m sure this one made a lot of lists.  This book is sad for many reasons, but there’s always that one reason that gets everyone in the end.  I’m currently reading Monsters of Men, the third book in the trilogy and I was just reminded about that thing that made everyone cry and I almost teared up again.

10. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – This is another book that I have shouted from the rooftops that everyone should read, but nothing made me cry like hearing Tim O’Brien read aloud from this book and a book that he is currently working on.  There was not a dry eye in that entire tent during the 2009 National Book Festival.

For more Top Ten Tuesdays, check out The Broke and the Bookish.

Nerds Heart YA Round 1 – Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

I’m going to start this post off by saying I read this book in one sitting and I cried the entire time.  There was not a break from the tears, even when this book was not stabbing your heart with sadness.

When Shawna was 7 years old, her mother left without a word for another woman, Fran and Shawna has never been able to forgive her.  But now, her mother has died of a stroke, and suddenly Fran and her two sons have a much bigger part in her life than ever before.  Shawna, always perfect and always doing the right thing, doesn’t quite know how to handle all of this and everyone starts to see sides of Shawna that have never made it out into the open before.  To top it all off, her dad is extremely controlling and can’t stand to see this side of his perfect daughter.

This book has so many wonderful things about it, I’m finding it difficult to know where to start.  First there is Shawna, who puts on this perfect face but as a narrator hides absolutely nothing.   She says things she shouldn’t, she does things she shouldn’t and she is so realistic it felt like I was talking to a good friend.  I was honestly sad that when I closed the book after reading it, I was never going to get to talk to Shawna again.  I loved loved loved her.  Even when she did terrible things.  Even she made huge mistakes.

My life is completely different from Shawna’s and was when I was in high school, and I’ve never had to go through a lot of what Shawna had to deal with, but I really connected with everything that happened.  There were moments when Shawna would explain a feeling or do something and I would just think, “YES that is exactly how I would think!”  Or, “That’s exactly what I would do!”  Garsee does such a remarkable making this book not about all of the terrible things that happen in Shawna’s life but about Shawna and how she reacts to them.

I feel like when we talk about YA, we often talk about the “issues” or what “issues” a book deals with.  So, Say the Word tackles homosexuality and how society makes that difficult.  That’s fine, but that’s not all this book talks about.  It also deals with body image (hello! Shawna’s best friend LeeLee?  Size 14.  I love LeeLee, I want to be best friends with LeeLee.  LeeLee is amazing), racism, sexual assault and verbal abuse.  It’s done artfully and the book never feels like it is a vehicle for talking about issues, but just a story.  A story that happens to include all of these things, just like life.

If I had any complaints, sometimes it felt like so many terrible things were happening in Shawna’s life that it was almost  unbelievable.  I must highlight the almost because it did not cross that line, though it came close.  The ending was satisfying and there was hope for the future.  My next concern really brings up a much larger debate about what I want my YA to do: do I want my YA to be realistic?  Or do I want my YA to be more than that?  Do I also want it to be a vehicle for education?  Is it too much for it to do both and maintain its realism?

So, the first issue in the book that really concerned me was that Shawna drinks and drives.  As for reality points, yes, I know this happens.  I know people often have a drink or two and then drive somewhere and no one gets hurt and no one gets caught.  For me, though, I had a really hard time with the fact that this was never mentioned as being bad.  Now, when Shawna is driving and drinking at the same time, it is very clearly a BAD THING, but when Shawna drinks and then drives home not too long after?  No big deal.  Not even mentioned.  Not even a concern.  She’s not even worried about it.  Should my YA take a stand on something like that?  I would have liked it to, yes.  I’m not saying take up much room, just a line or two.  She doesn’t have to get in trouble, because that wouldn’t necessarily be realistic, but at least something to show that it’s not okay.

The following paragraph is going to contain minor spoilers.  It won’t ruin the book if you continue to read, but if you’re a purist about these kind of things, skip to the next paragraph.  After the drinking and driving, the next part that really bothered me about this novel was how a sexual assault and later a rape are dealt with by Shawna.  I know it is very realistic that she wouldn’t tell anyone about what happened (both did not happen directly to Shawna, but she was involved), but should Say the Word have taken a stand on this too?  At least shouldn’t it have explored why Shawna didn’t tell anyone?  Should the novel have to become a vehicle for that discussion, simply because it happens in the story?

So what’s my answer?  I don’t know.  I would never question an adult book for not dealing with an issue like this, but do authors have more responsibility when they’re writing for teenagers?  I am so totally of two minds about this, that I have no idea to what the right answer is.  I think that sometimes yes, sometimes a book intended for teenagers does have that responsibility, but I would never want an author to sacrifice story, plot or character for the issue.  So these two things really do not change how I felt about the book overall, though I would have liked to see more exploration of the situations or they shouldn’t have been included in the novel.

The biggest strength of Say the Word, above all the others, is its honesty.  Nothing about this book was easy.  I absolutely loved the journey Shawna went on, because it was realistic – fueled by her mother’s betrayal, Shawna has deep prejudices that she finally begins to explore throughout the course of the  novel.  Fortunately she has people in her life who are able to turn those prejudices around.  Even if people aren’t as fortunate as Shawna, maybe Say the Word will be what changes their perceptions and consequently their prejudices.

I’m reviewing Say the Word as part of Nerds Heart YA.  Check back this afternoon for a review of the second book I’m reviewing – Once You Go  Back by Douglas A.  Martin.  Then come back around 8 pm for my decision!