Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
I am so glad I read this book, I had been trying to get my hands on a copy since about February and I am glad it was worth the wait. I knew early on this was going to be a phenomenal book; I was planning on giving this book five stars from the first few chapters, something that does not happen very often. It is excellently written and King manages to say so much in so few words, and speaks volumes with meanings hidden and woven into the life and thoughts of Vera wonderfully. It is an excellent look at society and how society sees things, ignores things, and treats the world around them.
Amy Sarig King’s novel tells the story of Vera Dietz, a high schooler who is working full time at a pizza place, while also trying to recover from her friend’s death, be a teenager, and deal with life, her father, and her conscience. This seemingly vague plot is hard to describe without giving it away so I won’t say much, but I will say that we are given this plot in a less than chronological fashion, yet still seemingly so. Through the book we jump through time as well as perspectives to see the fractured sequence of events as we are slowly revealed and enlightened with the story of Vera and Charlie, and how growing up can be a tough time for everyone and that there are some things you cannot change.
I think the fact that the story is broken up and from many perspectives is what makes this story excellent. There are short single paragraph chapters that offer a quick snippet of information or detail; long chapters that follow Vera’s thoughts and life through her eyes; and there are others that are just for the reader, chapters from characters who want to explain their side to us, explain to us what Vera does not understand, or will not accept. If we want to start listing all the brilliant aspects of this book, just the fact that King has broken up the book in these chapter styles is wonderful enough, and the idea that as a reader we are being explained a story, but not always in a language that feels like we are being told is just adding to this wonderfulness.
King has managed to grasp not only the show not tell side of good storytelling, but also making us become involved and emotionally connected to each character, even the ones we probably don’t like very much, or those we take pity on. A lot of this comes through Vera herself, as a character she is highly understanding while still being confused herself and critical. The friendship and conflicts we are shown between her and Charlie as they grow up together is strong, and this relationship comes through Vera in everything she does and does not do. But not only that, her own imperfections make her a lot more powerful. Her own struggles and issues are something to commend her for because they not only shape what she does, but why she does it, who she tries to be, and where she wants to go. There really is so much to be taken from something that seems relatively straightforward at the first glance.
The dialogue within this story is very well done, King captures the friendship conversations and inner thoughts of Vera through all stages in her life, capturing the appropriate tone and reasoning a teenager would have. I especially thought that the conversations Vera has with her father were amazingly written and presented, their relationship is certainly not perfect, but there is a great connection between the two that we are able to see both sides of, and by the end of the novel I think Vera sees it as well.
A lot of the novel is Vera telling us her story and making insights about her life and those around her. She makes passing comments and assessments about the issues with American schooling and reading, college scholarships for football over intellect, as well as aspects of society, all managed with this dry, sarcastic, conversational tone of an observational teenager. These critiques and insights that Vera points out are slipped in so seamlessly that they do not appear to be an protruding social judgement, instead, with the way King has constructed Vera, it is an acceptable point to make, and with the tone of Vera placed upon it, then King can make these crucial remarks without them feeling out of place.
The cover of the book has a review by Ellen Hopkins, author of the Crank series. She says this book is really special, and it is. It tells a story like no other, but it does so by not necessarily with sweeping metaphors and imagery, nor obvious moralistic messages. But yet King has them. She uses Vera to say so much more, in simple language, little snippets of sentences and thrown away remarks to talk about fitting in, being a teenager, hiding secrets, school and education, drinking, life, parenthood, family, pagodas, pickles. All of these things get their say and they are all spoken about. It is truly exceptional to read, it has the ability to tell you it is ok to be yourself, but that doesn’t mean it is going to be easy, that is why it is fantastic. A small part of me wants to compare it to Looking For Alaska, just a small part though because King takes it in her own direction.
What this book does is show you that there are people behind the people. There are the public faces and the truth they are hiding behind it. There is something very powerful that King has done, she is showing us that life is not perfect for any one, and what you see may actually be something far from the truth, something instilled and created to hide a truth, not matter how big or small it may be. I adore it.
I don’t want to keep explaining the power this book has, but there are lessons learnt in this book by Vera and by the reader. Each chapter makes you understand the world better, makes you look at life, your life, other people’s lives and find perhaps, something in this story you can take and make your own life so much better. My high school experience wasn’t like it is depicted in the American books and movies, but if I had this book in high school, it would have been an excellent escape, something to hold on to that would help when things got tough. And that is something I am not sure King ever intended to do, and if she did, then she succeeded spectacularly.