Please Ignore Vera Dietz
Knopf, 2010 336 pgs
Vera begins her senior year of high school both hating and mourning her lost best friend. The story begins with Charlie's funeral and the history of their complicated friendship and eventual estrangement is slowly unraveled. Present chapters chronicling Vera's senior year are interspersed with chapters from the past, slowing revealing what actually happened to Charlie and the terrible crime he was accused of committing. As Vera struggles with loss, she makes bad choices (drinking, inappropriate boyfriend, lying to father) finally coming to terms with both the loss of her distant mother and of Charlie, drawing her closer to the one person in her life she can count on: her father. Vera spends her life as an outsider, often observing people's lives as she glimpses into houses while delivering pizzas. She becomes a secret drinker and learns to overcome the fate of genetics, choosing not to follow the path of alcoholism as inherited from her father or the path of promiscuity as inherited from her mother. Vera grows and heals through this book, becoming proactive in her own life, and we are left with a feeling of hope and optimism for Vera's future, whatever that happens to be.
Please ignore Vera Dietz won a Printz Honor in 2011, and deservedly so. It was well written, different, and surprisingly non-sentimental considering the subject matter. In a genre where all the protagonists are noticeable unlikable, I really liked Vera and was rooting for her. By the end of the book Vera cleaned up the bad decisions she made previously and was heading towards a brighter future. The actual details of the future were left to the reader's imagination, which I also liked, hating books that are tied up too conveniently. The father was also likable, yet flawed, and I found myself pulling for their relationship as well. I labeled this book as a mystery. It is not a mystery in the conventional sense, but the reader is left to wonder what happened to Charlie and these details are not revealed until the end, so it read like a mystery. Vera does not search for clues, but she slowly begins to process all that happened, piece by piece, until she can face the whole picture and the reader can see the truth behind Charlie. The fate of the person who actually committed the crime is never revealed, which was frustrating. As much as I wanted to see that person get their "just desserts", I think the omission was to demonstrate how over the whole situation Vera actually became. I would recommend this book to teenagers in high school, especially girls. I feel like I have read so much teen fiction in the past couple of years where either the main character is dead or a friend or family member. I thought Vera Dietz would be more of the same, but it really stands out as an exceptional read.