Steve Brezenoff : The Absolute Value of -1

High school: Noah loves Lily, Lily loves Simon, Simon loves pot; Noah deals pot. I was lucky enough to never be a vertex in a warped little quadrilateral precisely like this, but the geometry of misery feels plenty familiar and accurate anyway. Brezenoff lays it out in first-person narration from the three principles, with book-ending asides in a sibling’s voice.
I have four teeny quibbles with this book. It bounces around in time quite a bit, and I was sometimes a little confused between “now,” “a little while ago,” and “back in junior high.” There are a couple of plot elements that provide an element of gravitas but don’t seem strictly necessary and are maybe a touch pat. Every now and then, Brezenoff’s teens seem a little too self-aware, especially Lily:

I wasn’t always a cigarette-smoking bad girl. Not by any means. In seventh grade, I made a fairly conscious decision, as a matter of fact, to try on some juvie shoes over my straight laces. . . I figure someday, maybe during college, or, hell, even after if I’m really feeling it, I’ll just take the juive shoes off, dust off my Mary Janes, and here’s good Lily. Give her an A+ and a job, please.

Finally, the novel is set in Long Island, and the protagonists are fans of New York’s American League baseball team. That’s actually not what bugs me. My issue is that to show support, they will don a “Yankee cap,” singular, which to me sounds like it should be a Confederate flag in a universal “No” circle. Maybe it’s a Long Island quirk?
But these are minor concerns, and I think this book gets an awful lot dead-on right. It doesn’t moralize. The teens aren’t “good kids” or “bad kids,” just kids trying to muddle through the best they can. (Their parents are another story; they are decidedly “bad parents.”) Lily, Noah, and Simon’s voices are distinct, credible, and compelling – Brezenoff doesn’t downplay their flaws to make them more likable. The overlapping narrative structure means that a few of the same events are seen from multiple perspectives, and they’re a little different: the dialogue and action don’t match exactly which I think is quite a nice touch, demonstrating the subjectivity of memory and how we all engineer our own stories a little bit.

needs more demons? on the contrary, completely held my attention despite the total lack of genre plot elements.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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