DAC :: THE S-WORD

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.)