Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

When Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King won a Printz Honor back in January, I was mad at myself because it was on my TBR-pile and I hadn’t picked it up yet. So I reshuffled the pile and made sure I got to it that week. Boy, am I glad I did!  A worthy-winner, it’s the perfect combination of literary and teen appeal.

Vera Dietz would really like to be invisible.  She is perfectly content going through life without anyone noticing her.  But since the death of her ex-best friend Charlie, that’s been a lot harder to do.  See, Vera knows what happened to Charlie that night.  But can she bring herself to clear his name?  Can she forgive him enough to do that? Part mystery, part coming-of-age, all amazing- this is a book you must read.  No summary can do it justice.

I really loved how King crafted Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  The story is told from a variety of perspectives- the living, the dead, even inanimate objects.  Everything weaves together into a web of intrigue, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.  At the same time, the mystery is not overbearing.

Teens will love Vera and I think most will identify with her in some way. She is sarcastic, quirky, angry, smart, full of love, at times full of hate, and  just… real.  She jumps off the page and it feels like she is telling you her story while sitting next to you.   You can’t help but root for her (and her dad, whom I loved).  I even found myself rooting for Charlie by the end, despite his numerous issues.

A worthy book of the Printz sticker.  Get this one in the hands of your high school readers ASAP!

*review copy courtesy of publisher

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

For months I have been hearing buzz about Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall.  It never made it to the top of my TBR pile because I had so many middle grade books to read for my sixth graders, but the buzz convinced me to pick up an ARC of her second novel back at BEA.  So last week I grabbed my copy of Before I Fall and sat down to read it.  Boy am I glad I did! I can’t wait to booktalk Before I Fall to my new high school students.  Not only is it well-written but it is also thought-provoking, meaningful, and realistic.

Sam Kingston is popular.  She is pretty.  Her friends are pretty and popular.  Once upon a time, Sam was a loser, way back in middle school.  But now she isn’t.  Now she is one of the chosen few.  She is also pretty oblivious to how her actions and those of her friends affect her classmates.  Sam isn’t particularly likeable.  I didn’t even love her at the end of the book.  But she is realistic.  So are her friends.  Oliver has captured high school perfectly.  A lot of seniors are selfish, they do think the world revolves around them.  Being popular is important, and sometimes that means stepping on those around you, as Sam explains.

But everything changes for Sam when she hears, “a horrible, screeching sound—metal on metal, glass shattering, a car folding in two,”  and then everything turns to nothing.  The victim of a car crash, Sam is convinced she has died.  Until she wakes up again then next morning.  Only it is not the next morning.  It is the same day.  A cross between Mean Girls and Groundhog Day, Sam is forced to relive her last day over and over, changing her actions a little more each time.

Lauren Oliver takes a fascinating concept and turns it into a thought-provoking novel.  How does bullying affect our lives?  Directly? Indirectly?  How do our actions influence those around us?  Can we influence them consciously?  At first, Sam lives with reckless abandon, doing all the things she never had the nerve to do when she was alive.  But slowly she begins to realize that she is meant to do something else.

What I really liked about this book was how realistic is, despite the premise.  When Sam begins to relive her last day she doesn’t immediately transform into a perfect teen.  Instead, she rebels more than she ever did as a living teen- seducing her teacher, smoking pot, cheating on her boyfriend.  She slowly begins to realize that something has to change in order for her to move on completely.  But even at the very end of the book, she is not a perfect angel.  She does change and she matures, but she remains a teen at heart.  While some people might not appreciate this unwillingness to become perfect, I love it.  It is realistic.  And teens will identify with it.

Some people mentioned being apprehensive about reading 480 pages about the same day over and over, but the story is not redundant at all.  I found myself completely enthralled by the book, despite the fact that Sam was reliving the same day.  Each choice she makes impacts the outcome at the end of the night.

Highly, highly recommended.  Perfect for high school.

*my own copy

Nothing by Janne Teller

This year I will be reading Lord of the Flies with my seniors, so when I saw Janne Teller’s Nothing called a “Lord of the Flies for a new century”, I added it to my TBR pile. Last night I pulled it out after doing some planning and I read it straight through in one sitting. It is that good.

On the first day of 7th grade (Danish 7th grade, so closer to our 8th/9th grade), Pierre Anthon announces to his classmates that nothing matters and nothing has meaning. We all begin to die as soon as we are born, so there is no point to anything or everything, he says. He proceeds to climb a plum tree in his yard and verbally harass the rest of his class as they walk to and from school each day. While they try to ignore him, his words start to crack their insulated teenage world. As a group, they decide Pierre must be stopped. The solution, the conclude, is to prove that life does have meaning.

In order to prove meaning in life, the students begin collecting items that mean something to them. Each student demands a meaningful item from the next student in line. What starts out innocently enough quickly becomes more intense and eventually morbid. The students are falling down a slippery slope and falling out of control.

This is a haunting book. Philosophical, thought-provoking, and horrifying all at once, I read Nothing in one sitting. Not a word is wasted by Teller and I found myself gasping at points. She does not delve into explicit details, but in some ways her terse wording is even more horrifying. It is a perfect companion to Lord of the Flies and will be fantastic for class discussions. I’m considering it as a read aloud with my seniors.

While the characters are not particularly memorable individually, they are disturbing as a group. As the reader, we don’t need to know them as individuals. It is the mob mentality that drives the book and drives the action. The group is not even redeemable in my eyes, but I still could not put the book down. It is completely haunting. And while the students are 13/14 in the story, the book is more appropriate for older students and even adults.

I am shocked that I have not heard more about Nothing this year.  It is without a doubt one of the best books I have read this year.  It has classic written all over it.
*my own copy

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,957 other followers