4.5 Stars of Brilliance
This book could've gone so wrong.
Let's look at the teen melodrama checklist:
- Alcoholic father - Check
- Absentee mother - Check
- Dead friend - Check
- Unpopularity - Check
- Drinking Problem - Check
- Wife beating neighbor - Check
Doesn't that sound a little bit like a Lifetime original movie? Or an ABC family TV show (only nobody is pregnant)? But this book is smart. Really really smart. It's not an "issue" book, but a story of a girl who happens to have some issues. That's a huge difference.
Vera Dietz is in high school, has a full time job (due to her father's messed up views about responsibility), her father is a recovering alcoholic, her mom left when she was 12, and her best friend Charlie just died.
Only she kind of hates Charlie. Not just for dying, but for treating her like complete crap leading up to his death. Add on top of that everybody thinks he did something really really bad and only Vera knows that he didn't. Talk about a complication emotional mess.
The book tells the story from four POV. It's mostly Vera, but we get interruptions from Vera's Dad (with lots of funny flowcharts and a honest parental perspective that isn't preachy or obnoxious), the dead kid (Charlie) and the Pagoda--a building near Vera's house where people hike and teens act stupid.
These four perspective really add the layers to this story. If we only heard Vera's perspective we might never understand Charlie and understanding him is essential to understanding the story. This book is both funny and heartbreaking. It's poignant without preaching, and completely right where it could've gone wrong.