Monday, January 30, 2012

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, the 2010 novel by A.S. King, takes place in a small town,  the kind in which I grew up. The rural streets, the woods between houses, the idle kids hanging out, seemed familiar. The protagonist is 18 year-old Vera, a senior in high school and full time pizza delivery girl.

I want to talk about the word, "ignore," but first, a word about King's craft:

In many contemporary YA novels, characters face overwhelming obstacles. Vera's mother ran off when Vera was twelve. Her father had been likewise abandoned by his alcoholic father. Vera's best friend, the boy next door, Charlie Kahn, has a dad who beats his mother, and lately he has been earning money selling his underwear to a pedophile. This seemed unique.

Lucky for the reader, there are no cliches here, as A.S. King is a talented author. These problems become interesting because we become emotionally engaged in the characters through descriptive detail. For example, Charlie wears beat up clothes. Not unusual. But King's description of his attire has a freshness to it. "If he had a string hanging from the seam of a ripped-up flannel shirt, he'd leave it there. Where normal people would want to cut it off, Charlie would want it to dip in his soup and let the liquid drip down his elbow."

Likewise, Vera is quirky, likes using interesting vocabulary words from school assignments to describe her life. "Here's me using parsimonious in a sentence," she says. "My parsimonious father doesn't understand that a senior in high school shouldn't have a full-time job. . . . It isn't good for my grades." This tells us two things: to what extent accountant Dad (who actually loves Vera) wears blinders, and also that Vera wants to do well. We also find out that Dad "ignores" the dangers of Vera's job delivering pizza at night.

Dad ignores other things as well.

Dad ignores the domestic violence next door at Charlie's house. For instance, when Vera sees Mrs. Kahn, Charlie's mom, crying, she says:

 "Dad? Do you think Mrs. Kahn is Okay?"
Dad said, "She's fine, Vera."
"But she didn't look fine, did she?"
"Just ignore it," Dad said.
When he said that, I felt myself deflate a little. I'd spent the better part of my life hearing my father say "Just ignore it" about the loud argument I'd hear coming through the woods from Charlie's house."

Reading this, I was reminded of my small town where once upon a time there was a teen exposing himself to young girls. Adults knew, but police became involved only after he set a barn on fire. Abuse, often affecting women and children is easier to ignore than burning barns.

In the novel, Charlie's mother never gets help, nor does Charlie who becomes with every year, more and more, disturbed, continuing to sell his underwear to the pedophile who drives down Vera's street. Vera doesn't tell an adult, schooled as she is in ignoring. Charlie gets no help and circles the drain.

Ignoring feels like an action verb in the novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

This evocative YA novel made me think of the myriad of ways adults ignore and how it directly affects the health of kids.

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