Let me tell you – if you think your best friend dying is a bitch, try your best friend dying after he screws you over. It a bitch like no other (p 7).
Vera knows what really happened the night Charlie Khan died. He didn’t kill all those animals, though everyone assumes he did. He wasn’t a bad kid. She knows his father beat his mother and bullied him. She knows he had the spirit of the Great Hunter. After all, she was in love with him.
But that was before he ditched her for Jenny Flick and the Detentionhead crowd. From their youth, the two played together, grew together, protected and supported each other.
Then, during their junior year in High School, Jenny Flick inserted herself into Charlie’s life. Vera never understands why he abandons her for Jenny and her loser friends. But after Charlie acts cruelly toward her, she no longer cares. A few months later, Charlie’s dead.
Vera Dietz has many quality points. It is told from several different perspectives: Charlie’s (aka the dead kid), Ken Dietz (Vera’s dad), even the town’s make out point, the Pagoda. Mostly, it’s told from Vera’s perspective, alternating between the present and ‘history.’ Each voice is unique and genuine. Each contributes to the story.
This is not just a story about Vera and Charlie, about friendship and the hope of romance, but it is also a story about family, community and loss. There’s an element of bullying. Vera hallucinated under the weight of her kept knowledge. She turns to alcohol for relief, and this is handled well and honestly.
But there’s also some room to trim. Vera begins to drag just before the conclusion and I became a little impatient for things to wrap up. It gets a little repetitive. It just needed a little more editing.
While Vera is a very good book, I didn’t love it. It isn’t as divisive as Nothing nor as unique a plot as Stolen (whose language I often found beautiful). It lacks the economy of text that defines Revolver. (These are the other 2011 Printz honor books.)
But it is darkly humorous and the characterization is excellent. The narration, while it jumps perspective and time, is seemless, a huge feat in itself.
I certainly struggled alongside Vera and, especially her father. I felt a good deal of sympathy for him and I hated him for his weakness. I raged at their enemies, Jenny Flick and Mr. Kahn, and pitied Charlie.
However, the inclusion of Vera’s vocab class words is a technique I’ve seen used by other authors and it just didn’t resonate with me. It seemed… lazy. I would have just had Vera use the words, like parsimonious to describe her dad, rather than tying it to her lessons, as if she was just discovering the words to describe her dad at age 17. On top of all the Zen comments (Which Zen guy said, “If you want to drown, do not torture yourself with shallow water”? p 22) it was a little much. Oh well.
Of course, I still highly recommend this as a great read for older teens. Read other excellent (and more in depth) reviews at: The Book Smugglers, A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, and Reading Rants.
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