Friday, August 22, 2014

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

This an early book by one of my favorite authors. It was written before I discovered her. Like her other books, this one blends a realistic setting with just a slight bit of fantasy. I don't mean elves or magic, but an element of the unreal going on in the life of Vera Dietz.

Vera's best friend Charlie died - as she says, she lost him twice: first as a friend and then for real. We learn all the details as the story progresses (with flashbacks thrown in to help). We also hear from Vera's single dad (whose wife left both of them when Vera was twelve), Charlie (speaking from beyond the grave) and the town's landmark pagoda (yes, it is quirky).

Vera just wants to be ignored. She lives in fear that someone will find out her secret - her mom used to be a stripper. The fact that her mother moved away years ago doesn't matter. The people Charlie calls detentionheads would make her life hell if they knew.

So Vera goes to school and works nights delivering pizzas. Other than Charlie, who lives next door, she has no friends and no extra activities. Her dad has insisted that she have a job since she has been legally able to do so. He wants her to learn responsibility, so she won't become an alcoholic or turn out like her mother. Ya, he makes Vera's life a lot of fun. Thankfully, he doesn't know that Vera is not always follow his wishes.

Vera gets mixed messages from her father. Be responsible, but ignores the fact that Charlie's father abuses his mother. Everyone has their own issues, but are not necessarily dealing with them in the healthiest way.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Quincey and Biddy have just graduated high school and are heading out on their own...sort of. Both are special ed students who are not able to live on their own, so they are picked to live together (an idea Quincey is not too happy about).

Arrangements have been made for them to live in an apartment over a garage on the property of a wealthy elderly lady named Miss Lizzy. Biddy will clean house for Miss Lizzy, and Quincey will work at a bakery. Both will be earning their own money for the first time in their lives.

Up to this point, their lives have been horrific. Biddy lived with her grandmother who called her retarded and generally treated her with contempt. Quincey was a foster kid, taken from her parents after she was hit in the head (causing her to be a special ed student). To say that both girls were poor would be an understatement.

This chance for a new beginning does not come easy for either young woman. Quincey is suspicious of people and readily snaps at everyone even when they are trying to be helpful. Biddy is scared of boys and worried that people will find out her secret. They both fear that Miss Lizzy will kick them out when she realizes they are nothing special to anyone.

This is often a sad and dark story told from each girl's point of view. Even though they have their secrets and limitations (for example, Biddy cannot read or write), they have talents and worth and now have the chance to prove it.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

One of the things I enjoy about reading is finding a unique character that I would never encounter in real life. Amber Appleton is one of those characters. She is smart, funny and a bit pushy at times, but ultimately concerned about others. She spends her time outside of school with creative activities. For example, she attends a Korean Catholic church in an old store front. Once a week, she goes there to teach the Korean ladies (aka the Korean Divas for Christ) better English by having them sing songs by the R&B group the Supremes. And, yes, she shares the story how that all came about.

When we first meet Amber, she is living with her mother and dog in the school bus her mother drives. It is all against the rules, of course, but they have nowhere else to go. Amber's mom drinks too much and has had a string of too many worthless boyfriends to make any kind of successful life for her and her daughter.

Amber makes her way with the amazing people in her life. She met her outcast friends (The Five) in an elementary school special needs class and stills hangs with them in a marketing club led by the coolest teacher, Mr. Franks. One of the Five, Ricky, has a lawyer mother named Donna who Amber idolizes and sometimes wishes was her own mother.  The residents of the Methodist Retirement Home who she visits once a week to help keep their spirits up. Father Chee, the priest of the previously mentioned church. And Private Jackson, a secluded Vietnam veteran.

There is a chapter where Amber explains how she meets Private Jackson that is amazing. It could almost stand on its own as a really short story. When I finished it, I could only think how remarkable it was.

Amber faces (and hides) from tragedy. She questions the point of it all and her own worth in such a difficult world. She is a fascinating character.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.