Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. Smith

So, a few weeks ago, the Youth Media Awards were announced.  These are the awards given out by the American Library association for the most outstanding books of the last year.  The one that really gets teen librarians going is the Printz Awards, for the best teen book of the year.

I figured I pretty much knew who would win the Printz itself -- and I was right.  So I was more interested in the Honor Books.  These are the books that were thisclose to winning the Printz itself. 

The honor books were a lot more surprising than the winner this year, and one, in particular really stood out as a shocker (at least to me.)   Please Ignore Vera Dietz certianly wasn't on my radar.  It came out towards the end of the year, and not many people were talking about it . Color me curious.

Vera has spent her whole life doing three things.  1) Slowly falling in love with her best friend and neighbor Charlie.  2) Fighting her destiny as the daughter of a stripper and an alcoholic.  3) Convincing the world to ignore her.  But when Charlie dies, #1 goes out the window,  and #2 is a lost cause. Vera, vocabulary whiz and full time pizza delivery technician, must deal with a newly acquired drinking problem, a kind but clueless dad, and the ghost of her former best friend, who died for Vera months before he actually died.

You see, Vera knows the truth about Charlie.  How he couldn't fight his destiny, how he died and his relationship with Jenny, a pathological liar and the queen of the school losers.  But telling would put the spotlight on her, something she's always avoided.  Can a girl who's made being ignored an art step up?  And what does the pagoda have to do with any of this?

I really liked some of the elements of this book -- Vera's voice, her relationship with her dad, the flashback structure -- but I'm not sure it hangs together so well.  The "mystery" at the center of the book never really gels, and we never get a really good sense of who Charlie was.  However, I can see teens being drawn to this book, for its bleakly funny world view and its unflinching look at teen life.

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