I’m excited to discuss Chelsea Pitcher‘s intensly honest, issue-driven  debut novel The S-Word
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge)

From GoodreadsLizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out. Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.

The S-Word is very much an issue book. Suicide, homosexuality, date rape, child molestation, slut-shaming, bullying, and cutting are all given varying degrees of attention throughout the course of the story. Sound like a lot? There were times when it felt like a lot, to be honest. While the novel was entirely absorbing, I wish author Chelsea Pitcher would have narrowed the story’s focus a bit, allowing me more time and space to fully absorb the gravity of the issues presented. That said, she handles the heavy content with the courtesy and reverence it deserves, without ever crossing into preachy territory.

My favorite thing about The S-Word, hands down, is protagonist Angie’s voice. She reads as so spot-on eighteen, it’s hard to believe the author isn’t a teen herself. Angie’s brutally honest stream-of-conscience narration and facetious conversational comebacks made this book a swift and entertaining read. But as much as I enjoyed Angie’s voice, there were a few instances during which I found her a little too flippant for the subject matter. Her lifelong best friend has just killed herself and Angie’s harboring tons of guilt. While I understand that distancing herself is a coping mechanism, there were times when Angie felt too clever and catty. I found myself wanting more emotion and less wit.

The S-Word‘s conclusion is another of its strengths. The story wrapped up in a way that felt satisfying and realistic. I thought the principal characters (with the exception of one — highlight: Lizzie’s father) got exactly what he or she deserved, and Angie made some big strides in becoming a more compassionate, more mature person. I found myself thinking of her even after I finished reading the novel, wondering what she might’ve chosen to do with her life after high school.

If you’re a fan of issue books with authentic teen voice, you will probably like The S-Word. Its tone reminded me of Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers, as well as Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally. Definitely check out The S-Word if you’re a fan of either of those novels, or of serious contemporary YA.

What’s the last issue book you read and enjoyed?

(Learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.)


11 thoughts on “DAC :: THE S-WORD

  1. Elodie says:

    Interesting….those are indeed very serious issues (and a lot of them). I think my hubby may want to talk to you at some point…Every single time you recommend a book, I have to buy it 😛 And since you compare it in tone to books by Courtney Summers and Miranda Keneally, I do have to order it…

    • katyupperman says:

      Oh no… Does your husband think I’m your enabler?! If that’s true, then who can I blame for my book-buying compulsions? Hmm… Maybe my European writer-friend with excellent YA taste? 😉

      You’ll have to let me know what you think of this one if you give it a read. Have a great week, Elodie!

  2. Jaime Morrow says:

    That does sound like a lot of issues to cover in one book. I think it might be easy to feel bogged down by it all. I heard about this one a lot in the past several months, so it’s nice to read an honest review of it. I’ll probably check it out mainly because I don’t read nearly enough issue books. I think THE MOCKINGBIRDS was the last issue book that I read. I think sometimes they’re a lot harder to approach because the content is heavy, so I tend to veer in other directions. Need to change that, though. Great review, Katy! 😀

    • katyupperman says:

      Issue books are kind of a hard sale for me, Jaime. I feel that they are often lesson-heavy. I bought this one because I read the first few pages on the Amazon preview and LOVED the authentic voice. I definitely think that’s one of its greatest strengths. You’ll have to let me know what you think if you decide to give it a read.

    • katyupperman says:

      I’ll be glad to read your thoughts when you’re done with this one, Ghenet. Despite the few issues I had with it, I did think this was compelling book with fantastically strong voice.

    • katyupperman says:

      Courtney Summers is one of my favorite authors. THE S-WORD reminded me of her books in its tone and brutally honest portrayal of high school dynamics. You’ll have to let me know what you think if you decide to read it. (Also, read more Courtney Summers!)

  3. Erin Funk says:

    I’ve been seeing this book mentioned around the blogs a lot lately and was curious about it. Your description of the number of issues THE S-WORD tackles kind reminds me of my feelings about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. I know people adore that book, but I wish it had been a little more focused on one or two issues, much like you’ve stated here. The plot and character development in this one sounds interesting. Great review as always!

    • katyupperman says:

      While I did like PERKS a lot, I totally get what you’re saying about being slightly overwhelmed by its numerous issues. I think that novels characters are what drew me in, and I feel similarly about THE S-WORD. The characters were compelling enough to keep me interested and satisfied by the end of the story.

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