This book is: bright and sharp.
Other elements: teenage love, not wanting to repeat your family’s mistakes, what it means to be responsible, dealing with your baggage.
Read it:if you enjoy crisp writing and a good story.
Overall rating: 8.5/10
This book is unexpectedly excellent. It’s not that I ever thought it would be bad, it’s just that I didn’t know it would be quite this good. I came to it after a friend recommended a different book by this author and this was the closest thing my library had available.
Vera Dietz is a girl who’s just trying to keep her head down and make it through high school un-impregnated and un-addicted to anything so that she can avoid ending up like her mother and father. It’s not that she hates her family, but rather that she’s been raised (solo, since her mom left) with the guiding principle that she must avoid her parents’ mistakes. Her best friend, Charlie, is also trying to avoid becoming his parents while dealing with a host of other problems at the same time.
The trick is remembering that change is as easy as you make it. The trick is remembering that you are the boss of you. – Page 28
The book opens at Charlie’s funeral. The reader learns, instantly, that something went terribly wrong in the lives of these two teens that led to one of their deaths. We then learn that, when he died, erstwhile best friends Charlie and Vera weren’t even speaking to each other.
The story unfolds from there, jumping back and forth in time as we see the evolution of Charlie and Vera’s friendship interspersed with flashes of the events that led to Charlie’s death and pieces of the present as Vera unravels under the shock of what has happened.
Vera’s a fascinating narrator. She lets just the right amount of herself show through; every time I thought I understood her perfectly, there was a still a little bit more to find out. The other characters – particularly Vera’s yoga-practicing, parsimonious, recovering alcoholic of a father – are complex and interesting as well.
The story occasionally allows the reader a window into other characters’ points of view: Charlie, Vera’s father, and even the pagoda, a local landmark at which many central events take place. The inclusion of the pagoda’s observations could have been stupid but instead it’s one of my elements. The pagoda, a failed novelty resort too large and colorful to fit into its small town location, shows us that even inanimate objects bear the burden of other people’s expectations.
There are kids in my class who can’t locate Florida on a map and they’re going to get the same diploma I’m going to get. They’re going to get accepted to college and become physical therapists or kindergarten teachers or financial analysts and they still won’t be able to locate Florida on a map. – Page 71
Vera’s struggle to find her way in the wake of tragedy and the way that hardship affects her relationship to herself and her family is one that anyone can relate to. She’s smart, sarcastic, floundering, and fascinating. King excels at telling the reader just the perfect amount of detail; I never felt uninformed but I always wanted to know more.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story, especially anyone who can relate to a fractured family and a strong girl trying to find her way when she feels lost and alone.