How would your life be different if you could read minds? Knowing what other people were thinking would make life so much better - or would it be more like a curse?
Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan is about opera-loving, darkly funny teen Kristi Carmichael, her belief that she can read minds, and her gradually dawning awareness of “the truth about her parents, her friends, and herself,” as the quote from Barry Lyga, author of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, eloquently points out. If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to read minds, and you like entertaining stories with plenty of zigs and zags and a good dose of humor, whether you’re a teenaged boy or girl (or the parents of either, for that matter), you’re sure to love Vibes.
Kristi is a self-conscious and headstrong young woman who has a poor image of herself as being overweight. She is a healthy eater - meaning that she occasionally likes to overindulge on things like pizza with everything on it or calorie-rich desserts, when her mother would rather she ate steamed vegetables and tofu.
Like many people, she uses eating food as a way to comfort herself when she feels sad, depressed, alone, or rejected. She believes other people, especially ones she considers to be “beautiful,” are thinking bad thoughts about her - that she’s fat, ugly, and “sick” looking - and she at least partially believes that what they think is true, though she hates that they think such things.
The school she attends, Journeys, is unique; its curriculum stresses independent thinking and student participation in contributing ideas about individual projects, such as one Kristi’s friend Jacob Flax comes up with to improve himself. She doesn’t like the school, believing that the curriculum is too touchy-feely and that she’s not learning much, and she imagines most of the other students don’t like her and are thinking bad things about her. The negative vibes they put off that she picks up are the biggest reason why she doesn’t like going to school at Journeys.
On top of all that, Kristi thinks that her mother drove her father away from them, and she often hates her mother, with whom she lives, and the fact that her father abandoned them. Also, her once-best friend whom Kristi considers to be beautiful and popular, Hildie Peterson, seems to have rejected her for the popular crowd at school. Kristi feels like Hildie’s brother, Gusty (Gustav), “the hottest bimboy in school,” thinks that she’s sick and unattractive.
About all that keeps her going is her friend, Jacob; another friend she makes, Mallory, a boy who’s named after the author of Le Morte d’Arthur; her cat, Minnie Mouse, who Kristie keeps hidden in her room from her mother, who would probably make her get rid of it; and her love of opera: “Opera is the perfect soundtrack for the tragedy of modern life,” in her opinion.
Kristi gets matched up with Gusty for a project where students are teamed with a “peer partner” of the opposite gender. The principal of Journeys was inspired by Jacob’s quest to better himself, so he announces at one of the school’s Morning Meetings that all of the students will “work on building your characters.” Kristi thinks that Gusty really doesn’t want to be teamed up with her, and that anyone as hot as Gusty would only agree to being partners with her to make the best of a bad situation. She believes that if you’re beautiful, you must be correspondingly shallow and stupid, and that beauty is nature’s way of compensating for these other defects.
However, Kristi gradually realizes that most of what she thought was true isn’t true at all. She may be very tuned in to the vibes people throw off, to the point of sometimes being able to read minds, but her interpretation of what she reads in the vibes is not always accurate. Gusty doesn’t think she’s fat and has paid another student twenty dollars to switch partners so he can be teamed with her. She discovers that Gusty is not as dumb as she thought but is smart in many different ways. Also, when her father comes to town from Africa, where he’s been doing medical work, she learns more about him, and she develops more of a feeling of respect for her mother.
In Vibes, Kristi goes from firmly believing in her powers to read a person’s vibes and sometimes their minds to doubting that she can, and doubting almost everything she’s ever believed had been true, to eventually believing that she can read people’s vibes, but that what she reads can be open to many interpretations.
Vibes is an entertaining and often humorous coming-of-age story highly recommended to teens of both genders, though teen girls will probably appreciate it more than teen guys.