This winter was an unusually mild one, and the unusual weather is continuing into the spring. The past couple of weeks have brought temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s – very odd for this part of Ohio!
Last weekend I took advantage of the unseasonably hot weather and sat outside on our new deck with a good book to read. Actually, two good books. I had been reading three books, and finished two of them that day.
Vera Dietz and Charlie Kahn were been the best of friends since they were preschoolers. Just when their relationship was going to the next level, Charlie’s new friends – a crowd of students most often found in detention – come between them. Even when Charlie acts out against Vera, believing the lies of the Detentionhead’s queen bee, Vera keeps his dark secrets. When Charlie dies under mysterious circumstances, Vera is haunted by Charlie while she comes to terms with his death, her possible part in it and how to expose the truth.
This is more than a novel about two friends, their growing relationship and the ruination of that relationship. It’s also about Vera coming to terms with her mother’s desertion, realizing that her father is doing the best that he can for her, and, ultimately, how to handle the demons that life always contains. There is just the right amount of snark, darkness, and sarcasm.
While mostly told from Vera’s first person viewpoint, there are short sections narrated by others: Charlie (after his death), Vera’s father, and – most humorously – the Pagoda, a town landmark. These sections do not distract from the story, but rather they enhance and add depth to it.
2011 Printz honor
When the day after she kissed her best friend, twelve-year-old Cameron’s parents die in a car crash, she blames herself. Isn’t God punishing her for kissing a girl? When her aunt, a born again Christian, moves in as her guardian, Cameron’s mixed feelings about her sexuality and guilt over her parents’ deaths increase due to her aunt’s faith and their attendance at a local mega-church. Over the next few years Cameron acts out her frustrations with life by drinking and smoking pot with her friends, loses herself in movies, and experiencing a heavy duty crush on a fellow classmate. After finding out about Cameron’s homosexual activities, her aunt is prompted to send Cameron to a school whose purpose is to make her no longer gay.
This first part of the book – before Cameron is sent away – is well written. Cameron has a strong voice. Her confusion about her sexuality, coupled with the deaths of her parents and her aunt’s very strong religious faith, are illustrated through beautifully written prose. The relationships with her friends and family ebb and flow naturally. She’s real.
The second part of the book – when Cameron is sent away – falls flat in comparison with the previous portion. While I felt as if I was a part of Cameron’s life in the first part, in the second I felt almost as if Cameron wasn’t even a part of her life.
This is the author’s debut book. If it is eligible, it might be a good one for the Morris award committee to consider.