Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Vera Dietz has a problem. Actually, she has a thousand of them, all identical, all which look exactly like her deceased ex-best friend, Charlie Kahn. Charlie has been haunting Vera, exponentially, ever since his tragic, mysterious death. He has been haunting her because she knows the truth but is not yet prepared to share it. Wherever she goes—to her job at Pagoda Pizza, on a date with a cute guy who’s too old for her—Charlie follows. He beseeches her to clear his name, to right the wrong that occurred one fateful August night. But it’s complicated. Vera is still mad at Charlie, not only for dying, but also for betraying her months before his death: she’s mad for losing him twice. How she can reconcile her conflicting emotions for Charlie—the friend she hated, the friend she always loved—now that he’s gone?

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King, is certainly serious in subject matter, yet it, surprisingly, is a book that does not take itself too seriously. This is in large part due to Vera, who, for all of her doubts, regrets, and fears, is an engaging, quirky narrator. Though much of the narrative focuses on Vera’s coming to terms with Charlie’s death, and her insight into his final days, it also deals with Vera coming into her own as a person. Vera is a fully-formed, three-dimensional character, and it is this quality, more than any other, that makes the book such an affecting read.

Of course, the novel, which was a 2011 Printz Honor book, is irresistible from the start. It has an interesting structure that serves to displace its readers without actually disorienting them. That is, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is not a linear book, nor does it adhere to any single perspective. Readers get a sense of the inner workings of everyone from the dead kid (narrating from beyond) to Vera’s dad to even the pagoda that overlooks the town. In the deft hands of King, this technique never feels like a gimmick; instead, it only enhances the emotional depth of the story. This device fits perfectly in a structure that is already inventive.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz plays out almost as a mystery novel, but the interesting twist is that most of the mystery is already known to Vera. Her memories reach the reader unordered and out of context, but, naturally, they all exist within her head from the start. It is as if she is sharing parts of herself—and her history with Charlie—as she learns to accept them. To delve further into the story is to get closer to Vera’s dark past, to the secrets she has locked away even from herself. The tension is there, even if Vera, technically, has always had the power to clear Charlie’s name and resolve her struggles. The tension is there because every step of the way Vera is wishing she could just be left alone.

In the end, the resolution of the story is cathartic not only for Charlie but for Vera. By fighting her instincts to be invisible, to be ignored, she learns to stand up for what is right and what is necessary. In spite of its somber subject matter, there is undoubtedly something empowering about this story. It is not just about grief but about carrying on. It is not just about death but, more importantly, life.

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