Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a very good book. It was an even better book for me because I have lived my entire life (aside from college) about a half an hour away from Reading, PA. Reading, PA is not a very nice place in most areas (no offense Reading, I still love ya baby!). It’s a depressed town that seems to continue to crumble apart over time, but…they have the Pagoda. It was built in the early 1900’s and it was supposed to be a luxury resort but bank loan problems and the denial of a liquor license turned the Pagoda into a really pretty, really useless piece of property. But that didn’t stop me and everyone else from loving it. I have great memories of heading up there with my dad and exploring (read: TRESPASSING before it got restored and became a place you’re allowed to visit now); somewhere I have a few pics of that day, I’ll have to find them. These memories have very little to do with the book, because I told my dad everything and we had a very warm (read: often tumultuous but extremely loving) relationship. Vera and her father love each other, but they don’t know how to love each other and so neither of them are feeling loved.
When Vera was 12, her mother left the family and moved to Las Vegas. Vera’s father turned toward self-help books, mantras and really focusing on just Vera and work; unknowingly teaching both of them to not put themselves out there to get hurt. The two of them have a void inside of them that they fill in different ways. Vera’s ok though (for the most part) as she grows up. She has a best friend named Charlie who is also her neighbor. Together they build a tree house, they do regular best friend things, they launch paper airplanes from the Pagoda, and they share secrets. When Charlie dies (not a spoiler, the reader knows he’s dead by the third page), Vera knows that some of the secrets that she’s holding are hurting her, as well as the memory of Charlie.
The memory of Charlie, the secrets that she holds and the void that has never been addressed begin to work against Vera. She starts doing very un-Vera-like things; such as skipping school, drinking heavily, kissing on an older man and virtually icing her father out of her life. When you don’t know how to deal with loss, pain and disappointment it’s easier to lie to yourself and avoid the pain. Vera’s dad sees that this is the path she’s choosing and it’s a path that will destroy her if not properly dealt with. It will take the two of them (Vera and her dad) to figure out how to fix her, how to fix him and how to ultimately tell the truth about Charlie.
While some reading the book will feel that there are some stereotypical aspects to it (Charlie not wanting to hurt Vera because Vera is “going places” and a “good person” while his family is bad and therefore he is bad), I can also see (as a teacher) students who think because they come from shitty people that they are destined to be shitty people too. This is absolutely untrue (if you recognize the need for change) but I can understand why Charlie felt this way, but it irked me. I wanted to hold him and tell him that he had all the potential in the world if he would show the world that he gave a shit. But kids like that don’t think the world cares about them either (and most of the time, they’re not wrong) and so it’s a Catch-22. This is just a perspective that I have that maybe not everyone else has…but it made me all the more sad for Charlie, for Vera and for her father who realizes that his stagnant life view is partially to blame for the multiple tragedies that occur. That’s when I realized that I was tearing up and that this little book that I flew through had gotten under my skin. Read the book, visit the Pagoda and let me know what you think about them both.