Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (Knopf, Oct 12, 2010, for ages 14 and up. Includes mature content).
1. The voice of the 18-year-old narrator is spot-on. She's sardonic, smart, sarcastic and very real. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a story about a girl desperately trying to survive her senior year in high school by flying under the radar as she always has. But she's barely holding it together because her best friend Charlie has betrayed her and then died in suspicious circumstances. Suddenly Vera starts seeing him everywhere. He even talks to her (trying to convince her to go to the authorities and tell what she knows about his death). He even occasionally talks to us ("A Brief Word From the Dead Kid").
2. If you're a writer, you'll appreciate the the masterful juggling of the non-linear plot. I don't know how Amy King does this, but it's extremely well done. She goes back and forth in time, revealing little by little what happened in the past and what's happening now, the week after Charlie's funeral.
3. Have you ever been to Reading, PA? You'll recognize the setting of this novel (even though she doesn't call the town Reading, so it's a fictional version). The Pagoda even becomes a character in a few chapters ("A Brief Word From the Pagoda"). If what the Pagoda says is true about the percentage of children who go hungry in that town, it's chilling.
4. Shortest prologue ever.
5. Occasional short chapters from not only Charlie and the Pagoda, but also from Vera's father, Ken Dietz, an accountant who thinks flow charts can help you get through life, and who has actually managed to do an all right job as a single dad. You can see how much he cares about Vera.
6. Vera is a "pizza delivery technician" and the details about the pizza place are so right, I could swear I smelled pizza sauce while reading this. Vera's struggling to earn enough money to put herself through college and she still manages to keep up her grades. She's tough, she's funny, and you find yourself cheering her on.
7. A.S. King (also known as Amy) is a champion of Indie bookstores. Woo hoo!
8. And she's not afraid to tackle some very tough issues -- domestic abuse (Charlie's family), underage drinking, drugs, child porn -- yet it's never gratuitious. Despite the whisper of paranormalcy here (um, you know, Charlie keeps showing up and he's, uh... DEAD), this is a very realistic look at today's society.
9. Treehouses are cool. Vera and Charlie built one in Charlie's yard when they were younger and Charlie was basically living in before he died. And there's a secret hidden in Charlie's treehouse.
10. I'm going out on a limb here, heh heh, and predicting that this book will win an award. I'd wager at least a Printz honor. If I'm wrong, tell the Pagoda, not me.