When Lizzie is caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night, her life is ruined. The school turns against her and her best friend Angie cuts her off completely. Unable to cope, Lizzie kills herself. But when Lizzie’s handwriting is found on lockers and pages of her diary are surfacing around school, it’s clear that someone is not ready to let her go. Angie begins to investigate these mysterious appearances, she gets pulled deeper into darkness over her own guilt about Lizzie’s death.
In all honesty, I’ve been putting off reviewing this book because I’m so conflicted about it. On the one hand, Pitcher’s debut attempts some pretty difficult stuff, both in its subject matter and in it’s fairly unlikely protagonist. But amateurish writing, a desperate need for tighter editing, and a plot that sort of fizzles instead of explodes makes this one hard to remember. After finishing it several months ago, the details have all but escaped me.
That’s not to say that there aren’t things that work here. Readers are likely to be riveted by Angie’s narration. A mystery that reads quickly, this one has appeal especially for reluctant readers. There’s enough intrigue here to fill the pages, and some of the secondary characters are interesting enough to hold their own.
But savvy, sophisticated readers are going to stumble over the novel’s awkward writing and stilted dialogue. Pitcher doesn’t ever seem to be in total control of her prose, and the result is a clunky narration that jars the reader out of the story too often. Bizarre metaphors and similes clutter the pages, some of which are so bizarre they’ll leave you scratching your head in complete bemusement. Surely that can’t have been Pitcher’s intent.
At times heavy-handed and perhaps a bit too issue-driven, this one isn’t a standout, despite its best intentions. Although it’s likely to find an audience and might open up a dialogue about what it means to give power to words, it stumbles far too much in its delivery and its message to really pack a punch. Disappointing.
The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher. Gallery Books: 2013. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.