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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*The S-Word* by Chelsea Pitcher- young adult book review  
The S-Word
by Chelsea Pitcher
Ages 14+ 304 pages Gallery Books May 2013 Paperback    

Suicide slut. Verity High is buzzing with rumors of a ghost, Lizzie Hart come back to haunt fellow students as her distinctive handwriting appears on lockers. Angie, the ex-best friend whose boyfriend Lizzie went to bed with on Prom Night, has stood back and watched the drama unfold, so ugly that eventually Lizzie took her own life. Like everything else in contemporary culture, the whole thing is played to a crowd, from the verbal confrontations to the bullying of a girl who has flouted the conventions of her social group.

Thinking Lizzie deserves her punishment and helpless with her own rage and confusion, Angie has remained a bystander in Lizzie’s destruction. Like a Greek chorus, the students mock what they cannot understand, make sport of suicide, of death, of the words they sling about like arrows at chosen targets.

Pitcher’s YA novel has hot-topic impact, both teen bullying and suicide finally ripe for discussion on many fronts. The high school campus setting is a perfect venue for an anguished teen seeking respite from the guilt that has plagued her.

The locker graffiti and photocopies of pages from Lizzie’s diary give Angie the courage to finally confront those who made Lizzie’s last days of life pure hell. Driven by her own guilt and inaction when it might have made a difference, Angie is the catalyst for exposing the brutality of her peers and the social media mentality that has bred its own brand of cruelty, judgment and asocial behavior.

Predictably, Angie agonizes over her part in Lizzie’s decision of death in preference to life, ambivalent toward those she has called friends as she watches the reactions of classmates to the diary pages and scrawled words on lockers. Not much of a mystery here, rather the emotional journey of a young woman facing the death of a friend at a time of life when such things are barely on the radar.

Pitcher captures the ambiance of high school, the cliques, trends, social pressures and judgments of those more comfortable in groups than standing alone. On the outside (by choice) looking in, Angie imagines Lizzie’s dilemma: ostracized by a best friend, shamed in public with someone else’s boyfriend, humiliated and made the brunt of jokes. (Pitcher tosses in a stun grenade at the end, a belated justification-cum-revelation that dilutes the potential impact of bullying and teen suicide—a disappointment.)

Maybe it’s too little too late, but the message is clear, Angie an ambassador of belated truth. Granted, the horse is already out of the barn, but one of the more disturbing elements of the novel is the usurpation of adult behaviors by adolescents unprepared for the consequences of their actions. Whether mimicking the behavior of parents or what they have been exposed to in years of media overkill, the sex, drinking, drug use, casual profanity and lack of parental presence is truly alarming. One can’t help but view this exaggerated soap opera as a revelation of unintended horrors, young people profoundly impressed and debased by society’s excesses, the crumbling of boundaries between youth and adulthood.

With graphic language, an abundance of alcohol and drugs, casual sex and little (if any) adult supervision, this landscape is dominated by teenagers who are used to figuring out the world by themselves. Helpful adults on campus are portrayed as well-meaning but ineffective buffoons, not to mention easily snowed by clever teens.

Angie gets close to a young man who skirts popularity but listens to her laments without judgment (the two profess their love prematurely after intimacy). That relationship provides the romantic panacea, as does the eventual revelation of Lizzie’s motives: everything ties neatly at the end.
Sadly, most young readers will find familiar territory in this novel, the familiarity of adult language and behaviors commonplace, the vast discrepancy between the adult and adolescent worlds camouflaged by death, drama, betrayal and revenge. What’s the problem with a little sex, drugs or drunkenness when the adults have so carelessly abdicated their responsibility to offer a few years free of the burdens that arrive soon enough with legal maturity?
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Luan Gaines/2013 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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