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please ignore vera dietz

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 3 months ago

4 August 2010 PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, Knopf, October 2010, 304p., ISBN: 978-0-375-86586-2; ISBN: 978-0-375-89617-0


"How often do you wonder about life on the other side?

On the other side of sorrow

On the other side of rage

On the other side of okay

Okay at all in any way

Imagine what loneliness

Will drive someone to do

Now multiply that times me

And multiply that times you"

--Ani Difranco, "Carry You Around"


"I ask Dad over breakfast, 'Do you think Mom stopped loving you before or after she met what's-his-name?'

"He chews his granola slowly.  It bugs me.  Maybe it bugged Mom, too.

"'I don't know,' he answers.  'I'm not even sure she did stop loving me,' he adds.

"I know the feeling.  I don't think Charlie stopped loving me, either.

"Now, Charlie's dead and I'm here in the kitchen -- on my way to school, and then to work.  It's my senior year and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.  I am motherless and, in the last year, lost my best friend twice, fell in love with a guy I shouldn't have (twice), got beat up by a skinhead Nazi, and have had things thrown at me, including beer cans, money, and dog shit."


PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ is an extraordinary YA horror show about two teenagers who are so screwed up by their respective parents that you are often unsure who has it worse -- Charlie who is now dead or Vera who is now clearly an alcoholic, seemingly schizophrenic, and definitely in possession of more knowledge about what really happened to Charlie Kahn than anyone else.  


That we occasionally hear in the present time from Charlie -- from the other side -- only heightens the mystery of what is really going on with teenage pizza delivery technician and high school senior Vera Dietz, who has not told anyone all she knows about the now-dead boy-next-door.


Having spent the past few days thoroughly immersed in PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, two seemingly unanswerable questions I continue to contemplate are:


Long before the story begins, what was the thought process of the then-pregnant seventeen year-old as she made the decision to birth and raise the unborn baby that would become Vera?


Why did Charlie's mother choose to marry and reproduce with Charlie's father?


 I love that author A.S. King begins the story by employing this Zen koan as the epigraph:

"What is your original face, before your mother and father were born?" 


PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ flows back and forth between the past (when Charlie is still alive) and the present.  Vera and Charlie have been best friends since they were little kids.  So, on one level, you have the mysteries about how and why Charlie so horribly betrays Vera (who loves him); how and why Charlie dies; and why Vera is not telling anyone what she knows.  And you have the story of Vera's resilience.  (She's still alive.) 


But, to me, this is an absolutely heart-crushing story about the responsibilities and long-reaching effects of parenting.   It is a powerfully nightmarish cautionary tale that vividly depicts what teenagers might, in the long run, be responsible for if either they hook up without adequate birth control and decide to go with the flow, or if one decides to bring a kid into the world with someone who should never ever be a parent.


It is a story that will hopefully compel teens to consider how what they see as reality is so often just the crap that they've been fed by their parents. 


I also find it fascinating how, in contrast to Charlie's brutally abusive misogynist father, Vera's father can often come across as a sympathetic character -- until we realize the responsibility he bears for what befalls his ex-wife, his daughter, the kid next door, and that kid's mother:


"As we drove out of Charlie's drive, I said, 'Dad?  Do you think Mrs. Kahn is okay?'

"Dad said, 'She's fine, Vera.'

"'But she didn't look fine, did she?'

"'Just ignore it,' Dad said.

"When he said that, I felt myself deflate a little.  I'd spent the better part of my life hearing my father say 'Just ignore it' about the loud arguments I'd hear coming through the woods from Charlie's house.

"In summer, the trees cushioned us.  I couldn't see Charlie's house and I couldn't hear Mr. Kahn yelling.  In winter, I could hear every word, depending on the direction the wind blew.  I could hear every slap and every shove.  I could hear him call her 'stupid bitch' and could hear her bones rattle when he shook her.  If I looked out at night, I could see the tiny orange ember at the end of Charlie's cigarette getting brighter when he inhaled."


Through the handful of chapters told from the point of view of Vera's father, we come to recognize that his being such a horribly flawed spouse and parent is in no small measure related to the baggage he'd accumulated from his own upbringing. 


And so it goes...


As they celebrate Vera Dietz's survival and rebirth, what I am hoping that teens might take away from this gripping, not-to-be-missed story is that parenting is not supposed to be about what a struggle it is for the parents.  It is supposed to be about what happens for and to the kid. 


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books.  You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received.  Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries.

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