18 year old Vera Dietz has spent most of her life secretly in love with her best friend and next door neighbour Charlie Kahn. Over the years, she's learned a lot about him and kept his secrets- even after he betrays her and ruins everything. When Charlie dies under mysterious circumstances, Vera is racked with grief and guilt. She knows more about what happened that night than anybody, but does she have the courage to come forward with what she knows and clear his name?
I've been hearing about this book for quite some time. It was recommended in an SLJ YA Fic webinar, it won a Printz-Honor, and it's been all over the list-servs. I'd been meaning to read it, but other books just kept getting in the way. Finally, I picked it up, and I couldn't put it down.
The story is narrated primarily by Vera, who is smart, witty, and extremely likeable. She does well in school, holds down a full-time job at Pagoda Pizza, and is essentially a down-to-earth, responsible kid. Except for the fact that she's drinking a bit too much, having a questionable romance with an older co-worker, and she's she's keeping an important secret about her best-friend Charlie's death that's eating her up inside. Oh yes- and she's being haunted by numerous Charlie's who won't leave her alone until she clears his name. You might be wondering how a girl with all of these problems can possibly be described as responsible and likeable, but trust me- once you start reading, you'll get it. Other narrators include "The Dead Kid" (Charlie), Vera's Dad and The Pagoda (a former country club and popular "parking" spot for local teens), who all offer additional insight into Vera.
The thing I love most about these additonal voices was how unique and unusual they are. It's not often that an inatimate object offers its perspective, and you might think it would be a bit strange, but it works. The Pagoda has been around for decades, and it's a lot like that wise old town member who just knows everybody and everything. Of all the voices, it's the most objective, and the most detached, and it's the only one without a vested interest in Vera. Charlie, who speaks posthumously, is watching over Vera, and trying to get her to clear his name. Through flashbacks, readers will get a sense of Charlie's life up until he died, and will understand how and why his friendship with Vera went so wrong.
Vera's dad is also a complex character, and the author really explores how being an extremely young and single father has impacted the way they interact. Vera's mom is like the big elephant in the room. She left when Vera was 12, and neither of them have ever gotten over it or discussed it. In fact, his whole philosphy is ignore, ignore, ignore, thinking somehow that if he doesn't acknowledge something then it will go away. He deals with life by making flow charts, and he is doing his best to try and help Vera avoid making the same mistakes that he did.
In the midst of all of the drama, there is also still a big mystery- what actually happened on the night that Charlie died? Right off the bat, we learn that whatever happened, most people believe that Charlie did it. But he didn't, and Vera is the only one who knows what really happened, but that won't become clear until the end of the novel, and the author masterfully teases readers with little snippets of information before all eventually is explained.
I really can't recommend this book enough. It's quirky, clever and highly original, not to mention well-written. From reading the plot summary, it might sound like it's a dark and depressing novel, but it isn't nearly as dark as you might think. There are some heavy issues being covered there, but there are also comical moments to lighten the mood. Some mature content such as drinking, sex, and abuse push this to the high school end of the YA spectrum, but it's the kind of book that I know teen readers will love.
Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.