When we live through a thing, no matter how hard it is, we still have what matters most -- our life.
A few weeks ago, I heard A.S. King deliver a speech at the Printz Award ceremony in New Orleans. This is something she said in her speech. For fifteen minutes I laughed, wiped away tears, decided I loved her, and asked myself repeatedly why I had not yet read Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a 2010 Printz Honor Book. In her speech, King spoke of life and death, of mothers and fathers, of lies and truth, of daughters and of soulmates. All of these were relative to her own life, but it occurs to me now that these are really what this book is all about, too.
This is the story of Vera Dietz, a motherless girl who dutifully learns her vocabulary words and delivers her pizzas and drinks her vodka and tries to blend in. "Please ignore Vera Dietz" is the message she silently tries to transmit to the world.
Vera's best friend Charlie is dead. Her mother left when Vera was young, and her father stuck around. As we move through the book with Vera, her dad, and Charlie, we slowly learn the truth of what happened with Charlie and how Vera and her dad survive all of this life and loss.
I don't want to tell you too much about this book because it unfolds so slowly and carefully and perfectly, and I want you to uncover its secrets for yourself.
One of the things I will take away from this book is a reminder of the lesson I first learned from The Sound of Music as a tiny girl, what the Mother Superior told Maria: "These walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live." No matter how horrible or uncomfortable or wretched, we have to face the truth of our lives. No matter how crazy and crooked things become, for as long as we're alive, we all have the power to right our own courses. This is one of the many lessons of Vera Dietz.
There were moments in this book where I had to stop reading, close it, and hold the book for my chest and just breathe for a minute. Here is one:
Here's me using the word tandem in a sentence.
We will learn to forgive ourselves in tandem.
I'm doing a lousy job of capturing how funny this book is and how heartbreaking and how really, truly real. Every little detail of what it feels like and is like to be a teenage girl was so vivid and painfully and wonderfully authentic -- I could taste and smell and touch those memories, both Vera's and my own. I'm not even beginning to capture how very much I loved it.
The thing you don't see while you're still there on Earth is how easy it is to change your mind. When you're in it and you're mixed up with feelings, assumptions, influences, and misconceptions, things seem completely impossible to change. From here you see that change is as easy as flicking a light switch in your brain.
It's so good! It's so good. A.S. King said this in her speech, too:
Our time on earth is far too short to distract ourselves from reality no matter how ugly it is ... something important stayed with me from those few moments I had no mother ... part of me stayed in that immature zone where dreams can come true if you work hard enough, and where reality is exactly as it seems, and where cynicism has little power, and where soulmates can really happen. I am very proud to say I still live in that zone, and I'd like to invite you all over ... you don't have to RSVP ... just drop in when you feel like talking about the truth ... be prepared to laugh. And bring your library card.
She is awesome, and so is her book. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is the best young adult book I've read this year. I will remember it for a long time. And I probably will bug you to read it until you do.
(Special thanks to Sophie Brookover, author of Pop Goes the Library and Printz committee member, for inviting me to the ceremony and for extolling the virtues of this book. I am grateful.)
(Here is King's Printz speech. The video isn't great, but the audio is fine, and that's what matters. I think you will like it. If you hear someone sniffling uncontrollably in the background, it is possibly me.)