So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.
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The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn't. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious. The pastor is saying something about Charlie's vivacious and intense personality. I picture Charlie inside the white coffin, McDonald's napkin in one hand, felt-tipped pen in the other, scribbling, "Tell that guy to kiss my white vivacious ass. He nevermet me." I picture him crumpling the note and eating it. I picture him reaching for his Zippo lighter and setting it alight, right there in the box. I see the congregation, teary-eyed, suddenly distracted by the rising smoke seeping through the seams. Is it okay to hate a dead kid? Even if I loved him once? Even if he was my best friend? Is it okay to hate him for being dead? Dad doesn't want me to see the burying part, but I make him walk to the cemetery with me, and he holds my hand for the first time since I was twelve. The pastor says something about how we return to the earth the way we came from the earth and I feel thegrass under my feet grab my ankles and pull me down. I picture Charlie in his coffin, nodding, certain that the Great Hunter meant for everything to unfold as it has. I picture him laughing in there as the winch lowers him into the hole. I hear him saying,"Hey, Veerit's not every day you get lowered into a hole by a guy with a wart on his nose, right?" I look at the guy manning the winch. I look at the grass gripping my feet. I hear a handful of dirt hit the hollow-sounding coffin, and I bury my face in Dad'sside and cry quietly. I still can't really believe Charlie is dead. The reception is divided into four factions. First, you have Charlie's family. Mr. and Mrs. Kahn and their parents (Charlie's grandparents), and Charlie's aunts and uncles and seven cousins. Old friends of the family and close neighbors are included here,too, so that's where Dad and I end up. Dad, still awkward at social events without Mom, asks me forty-seven times between the church and the banquet hall if I'm okay. But really, he's worse off than I am. Especially when talking to the Kahns. They know we knowtheir secrets because we live next door. And they know we know they know. "I'm so sorry," Dad says. "Thanks, Ken," Mrs. Kahn answers. It's hot outsidefirst day of Septemberand Mrs. Kahn is wearing long sleeves. They both look at me and I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I am so mixed up about what I should be feeling, I throw myself into Mrs. Kahn's arms and sob for a few seconds. Then I compose myself and wipe my wet cheeks with the backof my hands. Dad gives me a tissue from his blazer pocket. "Sorry," I say. "It's fine, Vera. You were his best friend. This must be awful hard on you," Mrs. Kahn says. She has no idea how hard. I haven't been Charlie's best friend since April, when he totally screwed me over and started hanging out full-time with Jenny Flick and the Detentionhead losers. Let me tell youif you think your best friend dying is a bitch,try your best friend dying after he screws you over. It's a bitch like no other. To the right of the family corner, there's the community corner. A mix of neighbors, teachers, and kids that had a study hall or two with him. A few kids from his fifth-grade Little League baseball team. Our childhood babysitter, who Charlie had an endlesscrush on, is here with her new husband. Beyond the community corner is the official-people area. Everyone there is in a black suit of some sort. The pastor is talking with the school principal, Charlie's family doctor, and two guys I never saw before. After the initial reception stuff is over,one of the pastor's helpers asks Mrs. Kahn if she needs anything. Mr. Kahn steps in and answers for her, sternly, and the helper then informs people that the buffet is open. It's a slow process, but eventually, people find their way to the food. "You want anything?" Dad asks. I shake my head. "You sure?" I nod yes. He gets a plate and slops on some salad and cottage cheese. Across the room is the Detentionhead crowdCharlie's new best friends. They stay close to the door and go out in groups to smoke. The stoop is littered with butts, even though there's one of those hourglass-shaped smokeless ashtrays there. For a whilethey were blocking the door, until the banquet hall manager asked them to move. So they did, and now they're circled around Jenny Flick as if she's Charlie's hopeless widow rather than the reason he's dead. An hour later, Dad and I are driving home and he asks, "Do you know anything about what happened Sunday night?" "Nope." A lie. I do. "Because if you do, you need to say something." "Yeah. I would if I did, but I don't." A lie. I do. I wouldn't if I could. I haven't. I won't. I can't yet. I take a shower when I get home because I can't think of anything else to do. I put on my pajamas, even though it's only seven-thirty, and I sit down in the den with Dad, who is reading the newspaper. But I can't sit still, so I walk to the kitchen andslide the glass door open and close it behind me once I'm on the deck. There are a bunch of catbirds in the yard, squawking the way they do at dusk. I look into the woods, toward Charlie's house, and walk back inside again. "You going to be okay with school tomorrow?" Dad asks. "No," I say. "But I guess it's the best thing to do, you know?" "Probably true," he says. But he wasn't there last Monday, in the parking lot, when Jenny and the Detentionheads, all dressed in black, gathered around her car and smoked. He wasn't there when she wailed. She wailed so loud, I hated her more than I alreadyhated her. Charlie's own mother wasn't wailing that much. "Yeah. It's the first week. It's all review anyway." "You know, you could pick up a few more hours at work. That would probably keep your mind off things." I think the number one thing to remember about my dad is that no matter the ailment, he will suggest working as a possible cure.
THREE AND A HALF MONTHS LATER A THURSDAY IN DECEMBER
I turned eighteen in October and I went from pizza maker to pizza deliverer. I also went from twenty hours a week to forty, on top of my schoolwork. Though the only classes worth studying for are Modern Social Thought and Vocabulary. MST is easy homeworkeveryday we discuss a different newspaper article. Vocab is ten words a week (with bonus points for additional words students find in their everyday reading), using each in a sentence. Here's me using parsimonious in a sentence. My parsimonious father doesn't understand that a senior in high school shouldn't have a full-time job. He doesn't listen when I explain that working as a pizza delivery girl from four until midnight every school night isn't very good for my grades. Instead,my parsimonious father launches into a ten-minute-long lecture about how working for a living is hard and kids today don't get it because they're given allowances they don't earn. Seemingly, this is character building. Apparently, most kids would be thankful. Allegedly, I'm the only kid in my school who isn't "spoiled by our culture of entitlement." This was supposed to keep my mind off Charlie dyingwhich hasn't worked so far. It's only made it worse. The more I work, the more he follows me. The more he follows me, the more he nags me to clear his name. The more he nags me, the more I hate him forleaving me with this mess. Or for leaving me, period. I'm at the traffic light outside school and I slip the red Pagoda Pizza shirt over my head. I don't care if it messes up my hair, because I need to look a mix of crazy, disheveled, and apathetic to maintain the balancing act of getting good tips and notgetting robbed. I reach under my seat and feel around for the cold glass, and when I find it, I slide it between my legs and twist the metal cap off. Two gulps of vodka later, my eyes are watering and my throat automatically grumbles "Ahhhhh" to get rid ofthe burning. Don't judge. I'm not getting drunk. I'm coping. I pop three pieces of Winterfresh gum into my mouth, slip the bottle back under my seat, and turn left into the Pagoda Pizza Delivery parking lot. My boss at Pagoda is a really cool biker lady with crooked yellow teeth called Marie. We have two other managers. Nathan (Nate) is a six-foot-five black guy with square 1980s glasses, and Steve is in his forties, drives a Porsche, and lives with his mom.One of the other drivers told me that he's loaded and he only works here for fun, but I don't believe what the other drivers say. Most of the time, they're stoned. They tell me, when we're mopping the floor or washing the dishes after closing, that when they'rehigh, they can't look at Marie because her teeth freak them out. Marie is running the store tonight, and when I get in, she smiles at me, like a bagful of broken, sun-aged piano keys, and hands me my change envelope and my Pagoda Phone for the night. Nate is cashing out his day-shift receipts on the computer behindthe stainless-steel toppings island. "Yo, Vera! What's shakin'?" "Hey, Nate." "Anyone ever tell you that you look fine in that uniform?" he asks. He asks this at least twice a week. It's his idea of endearing small talk. "Only you," I say. "It's like you were destined to be a pizza delivery technician," he adds, then slams the cash drawer shut and struts into the back room with me, where he slaps a deposit bag onto the old desk in the office and removes his hokey MC Hammer leather coat fromthe hook on the back of the door. "Destiny's bullshit," I answer. I should know. I've spent my whole life avoiding mine.
YOU'RE WONDERING WHERE MY MOTHER IS
My mother left us when I was twelve. She found a man who was not as parsimonious as my father and they moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, which is two thousand five hundred miles away. She doesn't visit. She doesn't call. She sends me a card on my birthday withfifty dollars in it, which my father nags me about until I finally go to the bank and deposit it. And so, for all six years she's been gone, I have $337 to show for having a mother. Dad says that thirty-seven bucks is good interest. He doesn't see the irony in that. He doesn't see the word interest as anything not connected to money because he's an accountant and to him, everything is a number. I think $37 and no mother and no visits or phone calls is shitty interest. She had me when she was seventeen. I guess I should feel lucky that she stuck around the twelve lousy years she did. I guess I should feel lucky she didn't give me up for adoption or abort me at the clinic behind the bowling alley that no one thinks weknow about. She and Dad grew up together, next-door neighbors. Just like Charlie and me. "I followed my heart," he claims. Some good that did him. Now he's stuck with me and three bookcases full of self-help Zen bullshit, has no friends, and maintains an amazing abilityto blow off anything that's remotely important. When I turned thirteen, Dad told me the truth about Mom. "I'm sure this will never come up, but in case it does, I want you to know the truth." Make a note. When a conversation starts out like this, brace yourself. "When you were just a little baby, your mother took a job over at Joe's." Of course, this meant nothing to me. I was thirteen. I had no clue that Joe's was a bring-your-own-beer strip joint where women danced around half naked getting dollar bills stuffed into their panties. "What's Joe's?" With no shame or recognition of how badly I could take this, my father said, "A strip club." I knew what that was. "Mom was aa stripper?" He nodded. "And people know this?" "Just people who were around back thenwhoever knew her." He struggled a bit then, seeing how disgusted I was. "It was only for a few months, Vera. She wanted her freedom back after dropping out of school, getting kicked out of her house, and havinguhababy so young. I was still drinking then. She wanted something that she never got back," he said. The words came out garbled and stuttery. "Shesheuhwanted something she never found until she ran off with Marty, I guess." Marty had been Mom and Dad's podiatrist. Dad and I used to sit in the waiting room and play twenty questions during Mom's longer-than-normal appointments for verrucas. Dad still hits an AA meeting when he needs to. He says it's a cursealcoholism. Says I should never even try the stuff because the curse runs in our family. "My father was a drunk, and so was his father." Well, if it's as easy as catching my future from a blood relative, then I guess I'm due to be a drunk, pregnant, dropout stripper any day now.
What People are Saying About This
Kirkus Reviews, starred review, September 15, 2010:
"A harrowing but ultimately redemptive tale of adolescent angst gone awry. Vera and Charlie are lifelong buddies whose relationship is sundered by high school and hormones; by the start of their senior year, the once-inseparable pair is estranged. In the aftermath of Charlie’s sudden death, Vera is set adrift by grief, guilt and the uncomfortable realization that the people closest to her are still, in crucial ways, strangers. As with King’s first novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs (2009), this is chilling and challenging stuff, but her prose here is richly detailed and wryly observant. The story unfolds through authentic dialogue and a nonlinear narrative that shifts fluidly among Vera’s present perspective, flashbacks that illuminate the tragedies she’s endured, brief and often humorous interpolations from “the dead kid,” Vera’s father and even the hilltop pagoda that overlooks their dead-end Pennsylvania town. The author depicts the journey to overcome a legacy of poverty, violence, addiction and ignorance as an arduous one, but Vera’s path glimmers with grace and hope." (Fiction. 14 & up)
Publishers Weekly, starred review, October 11, 2010:
"Beginning with the funeral of Charlie Kahn, high school senior Vera's neighbor and former best friend, this chilling and darkly comedic novel offers a gradual unfolding of secrets about the troubled teenagers, their families, and their town. Though Charlie's death hangs heavily over Vera, she has the road ahead mapped out: pay her way through community college with her job delivering pizza while living "cheap" in her father's house. But first she has to face her fractured relationship with her father, a recovering alcoholic who worries about her drinking; the absence of her mother, who left six years earlier; and the knowledge that she could clear Charlie's suspected guilt in a crime. Vera is the primary narrator, though her father, Charlie (posthumously), and even the town's landmark pagoda contribute interludes as King (The Dust of 100 Dogs) shows how shame and silence can have riskysometimes deadlyconsequences. The book is deeply suspenseful and profoundly human as Vera, haunted by memories of Charlie and how their friendship disintegrated, struggles to find the courage to combat destructive forces, save herself, and bring justice to light." Ages 13–up. (Oct.)
Booklist, starred review, November 15, 2010:
"High-school senior Vera never expects her ex-best friend, Charlie, to haunt her after he dies, begging her to clear his name of a horrible accusation surrounding his death. But does Vera want to help him after what he did to her? Charlie’s risky, compulsive behavior and brand-new bad-news pals proved to be his undoing, while Vera’s mantra was always “Please Ignore Vera Dietz,” as she strives, with Charlie’s help, to keep a secret about her family private. But when Charlie betrays her, it is impossible to fend off her classmates’ cruel attacks or isolate herself any longer. Vera’s struggle to put Charlie and his besmirched name behind her are at the crux of this witty, thought-provoking novel, but nothing compares to the gorgeous unfurling of Vera’s relationship with her father. Chapters titled “A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Dad)” are surprising, heartfelt, and tragic; it’s through Ken that readers see how quickly alcohol and compromised decision-making are destroying Vera’s carefully constructed existence. Father and daughter wade gingerly through long-concealed emotions about Vera’s mother’s leaving the family, which proves to be the most powerful redemption story of the many found in King’s arresting tale. Watching characters turn into the people they’ve long fought to avoid becoming is painful, but seeing them rise above it, reflect, and move on makes this title a worthy addition to any YA collection."
The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books, review, November 2010:
"The death of a best friend is hard enough, but for high-school senior Vera Dietz, her reaction to the death of Charlie Kahn is complicated by the fact that in the last few months he’d dumped her for the druggie pack at school, especially tough-girl Jenny. Flashbacks and compact commentary from Charlie himself, from Vera’s straitlaced dad, and from an omniscient local landmark interweave with Vera’s current narration, painting the picture of Vera and Charlie’s close friendship and its recent souring and revealing that Vera is the guilty and troubled possessor of many secrets about her late friend. King offers a perceptive exploration of a particular kind of friendship, one where one friend is undergoing agonies beyond the power of the other to help. Vera’s own troubles—her abandonment by her mother, the strictness and emotional evasion of her recovering-alcoholic father—get sympathetic treatment, but it’s clear that Vera is loved and cared for in a way that Charlie, stuck in a poisonous, abusive home, simply wasn’t. Yet it’s Vera’s life even more than Charlie’s that’s under scrutiny here, especially since Vera still has the possibility of making changes, both in her dealing with Charlie’s memory and in her ongoing relationships. The writing is emotional yet unfussy, and Vera’s tendency to see and perceive Charlie in every place and every thing is both effective and affecting. It’s not uncommon for the dysfunction in one friend’s life to start sowing seeds of doom for a friendship, and Vera’s poignant take on her double loss will resonate with many readers."
VOYA, review, November 2010:
"It is hard to describe how deeply affecting this story is. Vera and Charlie are both the victims of extremely bad parenting, but that only scratches the surface of the novel. The writing is phenomenal, the characters unforgettable. The narrative weaves through the past and present, mostly from Vera's viewpoint but with telling asides from other characters. There is so much in here for young people to think about, presented authentically and without filters: drinking and its consequences; the social hierarchy of high school; civic responsibilities; and teens' decisions to accept or reject what their parents pass down to them. It is a gut-wrenching tale about family, friendship, destiny, the meaning of words, and self-discovery. It will glow in the reader for a long time after the reading, just like the neon red pagoda that watches over Vera and her world."