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.)

Bookanistas Rec: LIVE THROUGH THIS

Today’s Bookanista recommendation: Live Through This by Mindi Scott (Simon Pulse, available now)

Live Through This

From Goodreads: From the outside, Coley Sterling’s life seems pretty normal . . . whatever that means. It’s not perfect—her best friend is seriously mad at her and her dance team captains keep giving her a hard time—but Coley’s adorable, sweet crush Reece helps distract her. Plus, she has a great family to fall back on—with a mom and stepdad who would stop at nothing to keep her siblings and her happy. But Coley has a lot of secrets. She won’t admit—not even to herself—that her almost-perfect life is her own carefully-crafted facade That for years she’s been burying the shame and guilt over a relationship that crossed the line. Now that Coley has the chance at her first real boyfriend, a decade’s worth of lies are on the verge of unraveling. In this unforgettable powerhouse of a novel, Mindi Scott offers an absorbing, layered glimpse into the life of an every girl living a nightmare that no one would suspect.

Coley is leading a double life. From the outside, things appear pretty great, but behind closed doors her world tragic, fraying at the seams. She’s very good at compartmentalizing, tricking herself into a normal frame of mind, and excusing away the absolutely unacceptable behavior of a family member. She lies often and to everyone — not something I normally tolerate in a narrator — but Coley’s lies are a survival mechanism, plain and simple. Instead of turning me against her, they helped me sympathize with her. And aside from sympathizing with Coley, I also just really liked her. She’s a smart girl, a caring girl, and real girl, someone I would have wanted to hang out with in high school.

Coley’s got a few great friends and she’s on the dance team, but the brightest spot in her life is Reece, a sweet band sort-of geek. Coley’s relationship with Reece plays out slowly and realistically, and I found myself wanting to hug him more than once. He’s thoughtful and funny and patient, romantic without being cheesy. He’s what high school boys should aspire to be.

Despite Coley’s likability and Reece’s charm, Live Through This is a rough read. It left me raw and sad and confused, much like Coley feels throughout the course of novel. That was okay, though, because this is a dark, serious book, an important book, one that might be capable of helping people who think they’re alone in the world feel a little less so.The subject matter is heavy. It’s dealt with in an unflinching manner that, while appropriate for this kind of “issue book,” sometimes made me uncomfortable. Mindi Scott’s clean, capable prose and Coley’s believable character arc kept me reading, though, as did the many adorable moments Coley shared with Reece.

One last note: I’ve read a few reviews that expressed displeasure with Live Through This‘s abrupt ending, but I think it works. Coley’s problems aren’t the sort that can be wrapped up neatly with a few hugs and an apologetic conversation. Mindi Scott gives her protagonist resolution, but not necessarily closure, and I found that courageous. I imagine Coley’s got a tough road ahead and to conclude this novel with a happily-ever-after would have, in my opinion, been inauthentic.

I applaud Mindi Scott for writing Live Through This, especially since (according to this letter) she has personal experience with the subject matter. And I thank Stephanie Perkins (who said: “Live Through This is by turns harrowing, sad, funny, and romantic. I couldn’t put it down.”) for sharing an ARC with me. And if you’re looking for another writer’s thoughts on this story, check out my friend Christa Desir’s post on culpability and the beauty that is Live Through This.

Don’t forget to check out Jessica Love’s recommendation of Time Between Us!

Tell Me: What’s the best “issue book” you’ve read recently?