Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The S-Word - Chelsea Pitcher

When I saw the blurb for this book on Netgalley, I knew it would be a book I'm interested in. I love me some serious contemporary writing and having literally just left college, I completely felt like I understood and could relate to the issues addressed in this book.
So when I wanted something a little more serious for my holiday reading, I knew this was the best book for that.
This looks to promising, it showed school in a realistic, edgy, harsh light that didn't glaze over the real issues surrounding most schools for teenagers. If a book can do that well, I'll support it until the end.

Synopsis: First, it was SLUT scribbled over Lizzie's locker. Then, it was SUICIDE SLUT, a week after Lizzie Hart killed herself - written in Lizzie's own handwriting.
Lizzie Hart's reputation is ruined when she is caught in bed with her best friend Angie's boyfriend. The weeks that follow make her life a living hell leading to Lizzie committing suicide. Angie feels like she could have done something to stop Lizzie but still has so many questions unanswered. A week after the funeral, pages from Lizzie's diary and graffiti start to circulate around the school. Angie starts an investigation into finding out who drove Lizzie to her death and avenge Lizzie. However, Angie's own anguish and anger over Lizzie's death and abandoning her best friend in her final weeks bubbles to the surface threatening to consume Angie.

Review: Well, this book was intense.

I think everyone has had experience in dealing with name-calling especially in a school environment. I know I certainly have, having been called a mixture of 'anorexic', 'bitch', 'neek/geek', 'weirdo' and 'poshy'. I think people don't quite appreciate how a name, how insignificant it might be to them, can cause such harm to someone else.
The events that happen to Lizzie that lead to her downfall are quite extreme to say the least and like the ultimate examples of bullying. I found the idea that a whole school would turn against one person quite extreme in my opinion because I doubt the things that happen to Lizzie would go that far.
Regardless, I loved that this book looked into the effects and the reasons behind why we define people with a tag. Like one person can only be a bitch or a slut or whatever and nothing else and I definitely think so many more books need to deal with these kind of issues instead of breezing over the reality of high school/college/secondary school.

There's also a look at real teenage issues like finding your own identity, sexuality, relationships, domestic violence, rape - all written in a sometimes harsh light that left me quite uncomfortable at times but sort of empowered too. Not many books can do that, but THE S-WORD certainly can.

Angie is a character that you are made to dislike. As she is part of the popular crew at her high school, she is mean, obnoxious, rude and manipulative throughout as well as this kind of casual, relaxed attitude to all that is going on around her. It's only really when you delve deeper into this novel, when all these surprises and secrets that Lizzie kept from her best friend come to light and the effects of the mysteries she is unraveling that we see a more humane, emotional person in Angie that does have a heart and did care for her friend. It's heartbreaking in a way, and I think that just adds more and more to the intensity of this novel. The same was how I felt for Lizzie. Although she's already dead from the first page, through Angie, the mysteries and her diary, the reader discovers Lizzie's true character as well, who it is clear is very different from those around her, especially Angie. I'm not sure how I felt about these characters in the end. While I was sad for Lizzie after all that happened, there was just a touch of something in the story that made is slightly unbelievable. Like ALL those things happened to one girl, I'm not sure. As I read in one review for this book, both Angie and Lizzie are very dramatic and I think it's this that stopped me enjoying the story completely.

The book is dark as much as it is intense and I liked this alternative style of showing this high school setting which isn't used very often which I think is best shown through the writing and themes. The writing itself is unique and that is so, so obvious from the first page. The narration I found was very choppy and at times rather unsympathetic and harsh which I really didn't like when talking about these themes. I found it got better as I got more into the story but it's certainly something that could have been refined. I don't know, maybe I'm just being critical or there is a purpose for having it that way but regardless, for me it just didn't work that well.
There are a lot of surprises running through the narrative, some more obvious than others (totally didn't see the surprise at the end coming!). I liked how this novel dabbled in many genres - thriller, contemporary, romance, mystery, all working quite well.

The day I finished this novel, I found out that a guy I had grown up with before losing contact with him when we were 12, had died at 18. It was that and this novel that impacted on me once again how short our lives are in reality even if being a 80 seems to far away at the age of 18. There are so many secrets and lies we all keep within ourselves that we could potentially leave without telling anyone and it's clear this effect happens to Angie as Lizzie's hidden knowledge attempts to consume her.
This is a hard-hitting novel with many uncomfortable moments, surprising revelations, themes that need to be addressed far more often and at it's heart, a dark, intense narrative that does make you think. Sure, there are lots of things that could be done differently or didn't work, but this is one of the only books I've read that deal with suicide, self-harm, rape, domestic abuse so vividly. And there is needs to be far more books like this before we can move forward and combat these issues.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for allowing me to review this book 

Author's Website:
Pages: 304
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Challenges: None

Related Reviews: 
Undone - Cat Clarke
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
Speechless - Hannah Harrington

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this books sounds really intense. It's unfortunate that the hard-hitting issues should have been touched upon more. I also strongly believe that more books should combat serious issues. I've only read one book that featured rape and that wasn't a YA book. I'm glad you enjoyed some aspects of the book, at least it wasn't a total downfall :) Thanks for the honest review!


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