Please Ignore Vera Dietz. It was totally worth the dark circles and exhaustion today; this book was excellent. The prologue states, "To say my friend died is one thing. To say my friend screwed me over and then died five months later is another." With that, I was hooked and couldn't stop reading.
The friendship between Vera and Charlie is so engrossing because they both want to fight their family histories (teenage pregnancy and alcoholism for the former, physical abuse for the latter) but feel that it is their fate. For this reason, they can't admit that they really love each other, which hurts to witness. King's beautiful writing keeps the themes of fate and responsibility in the reader's mind throughout the novel, as characters wrestle with who they want to be, who they are expected to be, and who they really are.
From the start, we know that Charlie will die, but don't get the details until the end of the novel. Instead, the author drops grim hints about his downfall that made me repeat, "Oh my, what happened to this kid?" The truth is heartbreaking, for Vera and the reader. There are a lot of dark elements to the story, but it never feels hopeless. The narrative occasionally switches from Vera to her father, Charlie, and the local pagoda, which lightens the mood and gives us more insight into the mystery of Charlie's death.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz would be a great 'next step' for readers who loved Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. Both novels feature outcast teenagers who protect the secrets of their only friends. It's too mature for my middle school readers (a part with a townsperson who gives Charlie trinkets is going to haunt me), but I will definitely recommend it to former students who appreciate stories of redemption and struggle.