Posted on April 6, 2014 | Back to Literature
REVIEWED: Please Ignore Vera Dietz (2012) by A.S. King
Here be spoilers.
I really looked forward to this book. It was recommended to me by the staff of Powell’s Books in Portland, which is usually a very good source for finding excellent young adult literature. As I dove into the pages however, it was like a black cloud descended over me. To say Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a cynical work of fiction is perhaps insufficient. It figuratively dumps cynicism all over the floor and rolls around in it naked. Without exaggeration, some of the “challenges” Vera must deal with during the 300+ pages of ongoing misery include, but are not limited to:
It’s as though author A.S. King had a checklist of distasteful and unpleasant elements she wanted in this book – and diligently had Vera work her way through all of them. Honestly, I felt completely manipulated in the process.
The foundation for all of this is the friendship between Vera and her next-door neighbor, Charlie Kahn. They’ve known each other for years and as they’ve grown older, a budding romance has developed. As can often happen in high school however, Charlie starts hanging out with a different crowd and the friendship fades and dies. On top of it all, Charlie’s girlfriend is the school’s requisite “mean girl” who sees Vera has competition and makes every effort to destroy her. Then Charlie dies under mysterious circumstances at the same time the town’s pet store burns to the ground, killing numerous animals in the process. Everyone’s certain Charlie, who by this time is well established as a fallen angel, was responsible. Only Vera, the lone eyewitness to the crime, knows this isn’t true but her pain and residual anger for Charlie prevents her from posthumously clearing his name.
At the end of the book, Vera tearfully comes clean to her father about the identity of the real arsonist. (Spoiler: it was “mean girl” girlfriend, of course.) Dad gently cups Vera’s chin and tells her not to be so hard on herself. After all, he says, she just did something most people would never be able to do (i.e., she came clean about who killed dozens of animals in a particularly horrible way.) More than anything else, this scene underscores why I disliked this book. At that moment, I understood what an awful person Vera Dietz really is. As a protagonist, she’s sanctimonious, entitled, selfish and self-deluding; and her confession at the eleventh hour does nothing to salvage her. What’s more, her father is completely wrong. I honestly believe most human beings, if they were watching a teenage girl dump gasoline on live animals with the intent of immolating them, would actually do something about it. Maybe that “something” would only be calling 911, but that’s a lot more than Vera did as she hid in her car and listened to the firetrucks roar by.
By the end of the novel, I was utterly deflated. Maybe the author’s intent was to tap into the inherent cynicism of many teens, but by doing so she excluded the reader from witnessing any joy, happiness or redemption. And yes, these things happen in teenager’s lives too. Not in Vera’s apparently, but for other teenagers.
I really wish I had ignored Vera Dietz.