(Random House e-book 2010)
I wouldn’t have got this book were it not for Erin’s recommendation at Aelia Reads: I pass on my own recommendation, because King’s novel is excellent.
Vera Dietz is eighteen, a high school senior living in a small town in Pennsylvania. Her mother left her daughter and husband when Vera was twelve, and as the story unfolds, the reader learns more about the family’s history and actions, which in turn explain the relationship between Vera and her father. At the beginning of the novel, Vera explains that she had been betrayed by her best friend, Charlie Kahn, who had died some months earlier. Charlie had got involved with the ‘Detentionheads’ at school, and with Jenny Flick, in particular, who told lies about Vera so as to make Charlie break with his friend.
The novel is told primarily from Vera’s point of view, with wry interjections from her father, the Pagoda (a folly outside town) and even the dead Charlie. It’s not told in chronological order, either, which prolongs the mystery of Charlie’s death and betrayal, and how Vera eventually comes to terms with her own guilt at failing to help her friend at the last. The non-Vera interjections are often amusing, and I rather liked Ken Dietz’s flow-charts for living life, but they’re not all necessary to further the plot, carried through Vera’s narrative, though they do deepen it.
I particularly liked Vera’s voice in this: she’s a convincing teenager. She has problems, but she tries to deal with them, some with more success than others. I did find it rather hard to believe that she can attend high school and at the same time hold down a full-time job as a pizza delivery technician, even if she is trying to save what she can to pay for college).
The other characters are also conveyed as real people, but are only lightly, if illuminatingly sketched: Vera doesn’t pretend to know what any of them are thinking (apart from her father, perhaps), and so, as a result, the motives of, say, Jenny Flick, are a bit murky. Although King shows us some parts from Charlie’s point of view, he’s only eighteen too, and can’t look back on his life with great detachment or self-knowledge at this point.
This is a thoroughly engaging Young Adult novel, with an interesting, believable protagonist/ narrator, and which tackles some important themes and ideas, sometimes only tangentially. It’s told well, if slightly quirkily, and certainly makes a change from reading about impossibly wealthy high school teens for whom status is more important than friendship or integrity.