If you haven’t heard of A. S. King, I hope you will soon. She is a wonderful YA author that I have just discovered, and am thinking of starting a campaign for her (though many of the awards committees like the Prinz, Kirkus, etc. etc. have started without me).
Like John Green, A. S. King creates fantastically compelling and memorable characters to tell her stories. Her latest, Everybody Sees the Ants came close to being an all-time favourite with me, mostly on the strength of the main character, Lucky Linderman, and his wry look at those around him and his own struggles.
I just finished King’s second book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and I was not disappointed. Like Ants there is a teen facing insurmountable odds and a heartbreaking situation – and in both the details are doled out slowly, keeping the reader in suspense. Also like Ants, there is an inexplicably surreal element running through the story. I suspect some readers will be put off by it, but I think King does a remarkable job of weaving the fantastical (and we’re not talking vampires or werewolves) into the real.
To give you an idea: Vera’s best friend Charlie has just died. Except that when he died, she was angry at him, and now Vera is struggling with the conflicting emotions of losing a life-long best friend, and also a worst enemy. As the novel progresses, the crack-lines that permeate her life and that tore apart Charlie’s become increasingly apparent. Him from a family with an abusive father. Her with a runaway mother and a father incapable of expressing emotion. Him having fallen in with a bad crowd and a psychotic girlfriend. Her with a drinking problem that is a repeat of her dad’s as a teen. Him as a ghost by her side – haunting her and helping her.
The story telling is gorgeous and spins out beautifully – Vera’s past intertwines with the present and is interlaced with chapters told by her father, Charlie “the dead kid,” and the local landmark “the pagoda” (yes, an inanimate building). Your heart will break for Vera and Charlie and her father, and will swell when it sees what she might make of her future, and the kind of person she is and might become. I’ve never read a love story/friendship quite like this one – and especially in the YA genre (where every permutation is hashed to death) that is saying something.
This book was sophisticated and meaningful. Like Ants it was not without its flaws, but it was top-notch, and deserves attention.