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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff

Title: The Absolute Value of -1
Author: Steve Brezenoff
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Pub. Date: 9.1.2010
Genre: Contemporary YA
Keywords: Love, Friendship, Multiple POV
Pages: 264
Description (from GoodReads):
The absolute value of any number, positive or negative, is its distance from zero: I-1I = 1.

Noah, Lily, and Simon have been a trio forever. But as they enter high school, their relationships shift and their world starts to fall apart. Privately, each is dealing with a family crisis—divorce, abuse, and a parent's illness. Yet as they try to escape the pain and reach out for the connections they once counted on, they slip—like soap in a shower. Noah’s got it bad for Lily, but he knows too well Lily sees only Simon. Simon is indifferent, suddenly inscrutable to his friends. All stand alone in their heartache and grief.

In his luminous YA novel, Steve Brezenoff explores the changing value of relationships as the characters realize that the distances between them are far greater than they knew.

Having never heard of THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1, I had no expectations as I cracked the cover. Not one. Which is why I was shocked to discover that this novel, Steve Brezenoff's YA debut, has landed squarely on my Best of 2010 list.

The novel is divided into three main sections - one for each character - but the first and last pages are told by Suzanne. I'll admit to being a bit confused when I saw her name printed largely on the first page... there's no mention of a Suzanne in the description. It doesn't take long to figure out who this mysterious narrator is, but it takes the majority of the novel to make sense of her role and meaning to each of the main characters.

I ended up preferring Lily and Noah over Simon. I appreciated seeing the events unfold from each POV, but Simon set me on edge. Even at the end of the novel, I wasn't completely sure I understood his motivations, which made is actions difficult to reconcile. In the end, I resigned myself to disliking his character, which was difficult for me because I can't help but try to connect with each character, even in a small way.

I found it easy to identify with Lily. She's the typically high school girl, in love with a boy who is oblivious to her. Or worse, is completely aware and chooses to act oblivious. I feel confident saying that every girl feels like a Lily at some point, whether it occurs in high school or later.

Noah was my favorite character, though it's hard to say exactly why. Part of me wonders if it's due to the fact that he had the smallest section. It's almost like when you meet someone for the first time and you think they're pretty cool, but then, the more you get to know them, the more you're aware of their flaws. And then they just don't seem so cool anymore. Simon and Lily's flaws were painfully clear, while Noah was just a stoner boy with an unrequited crush. He was much easier to like. Maybe I would have ended up liking him less if he was more of a focus, but I still can't help wanting to hear more of his story.

THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1 is unflinchingly honest and beautifully written. I'm very curious to see what Steve Brezenoff offers next, but, in the meantime, I'll be pondering this novel's final pages...

Grade: A

Part of the reason I decided to read THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1 was the book trailer... I always thought book trailers were more fun than functional, but, more and more, I've found that book trailers have caused me to give a book a second look!


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