Book Review: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

Title: The S-Word
Author: Chelsea Pitcher
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Galley Books
Publication Date: May 2013
Pages: 320
Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
‘First it was SLUT scribbled all over Lizzie Hart’s locker.
But one week after Lizzie kills herself, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie’s looping scrawl.

Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.

My Review:

In one of the biggest scandals Verity High has ever seen, the preacher’s daughter is found in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend. On prom night. And instantly good girl and “untouchable saint” Lizzie Hart is branded the S-word. People have covered her locker, her notebooks, her book bag – and even her car – with a single word. The S-word. Slut.

A week after Lizzie takes her own life the words “Suicide Slut” start appearing all over the school – in Lizzie’s own distinctive handwriting. Lizzie’s former best friend, Angie, sets out to find out the truth. The truth behind prom night, the graffiti on Lizzie’s possessions and Lizzie’s death.
This is a book about the power of labels. As Angie investigates the circumstances Lizzie we get to meet a cast of colour characters. There’s a boy who wears women’s fashion with a certain flair, borderline alcoholic cheerleaders, the straight A students who would do anything for a glowing reference and slightly creepy computer nerds. But they are all so much more than who they first appear at a glance. They have layers and yet most people never get to see beyond the superficial front.
I liked reading about the characters – Angie is a fantastic lead. She’s trying to repent for the apologies she can never make. Like a dog with a bone she won’t give up the search to find out who’s responsible. The mystery angle was an interesting take to a novel that’s about some rather serious issues. Lizzie – who we never get to see in person – makes an impression from her diary entries and memories Angie shares throughout the novel. I found her harder to relate to – in many ways she felt unrealistic. Her diary entries were awkward in their style and took me out of the story slightly. That said – there were lines and passages in this novel that were beautifully written and really got to me. The ones that make you think about how applicable the message in this book is to real life and situations.
Overall I enjoyed reading the S-Word. I found the characters engaging and dynamic. The plot contained so many of those issues that people don’t talk about for whatever reasons – abuse, neglect, racism, bullying and teen suicide – and I felt like most of these were dealt with in an appropriate way.
The S-Word is a novel that deals with the darker side of high school. I recommend this book for anyone looking for a YA contemporary novel that’s a bit edgier than the usual and doesn’t mind touching on serious issues.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing an eARC for me to read and review.

Purchase the novel from:

Amazon / Book Depository 

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Teen Suicide
Publisher: Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin)
Publication Date: October 2007
Pages: 288
Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

My Review:

I was blown away when I started this novel. I wasn’t expecting Hannah to be so angry. But she is. And she’s going to make sure that the people who she blames for ruining her life and contribute to the reasons why she ended her own life know it.

And as a reader of this book I now know it too. Each chapter, each side of the tapes, gives new information, a new story as to just why Hannah is so angry and upset with her circumstances.

One of the biggest messages I got from this book was regarding reputation and how powerfully it can effect a person’s entire view of themselves. Hannah’s was widely exaggerated – and in many ways just plain untrue – but none the less the way that other’s viewed her and treated her as rumours of her sexual experience and other exploits made their way around the school and the town shaped how Hannah thought of herself.

The layout of this book was clever and a brilliant way to set out the novel. The chapters are presented as sides to the tape – each side another story – and in between paragraphs little play, pause or stop symbols were used to show whether or not Clay was listening to Hannah’s narration or trying to figure things out for himself.

Whilst I enjoyed reading this book and couldn’t help but devour the entire novel in a matter of hours, I fundamentally disagree with some events (like the end) and the whole concept in the first place. By that I mean that whilst I understand why Hannah made and sent the tapes, I feel like no matter what she needed to take responsibility for her own actions rather than blaming others. It’s horrible what happened and that she felt like she had no other choices. But ultimately, she’s the one who ended her life. Not anyone else whose names appear on the tapes. I actually felt a little sick too at the reason why Clay got them. Because receiving a package like that – it’s life changing in many ways, none of them good – and by sending them out I felt like she’s ruining the recipients lives in a way that was as bad or even worse than the reasons why she’s sending them out. And now I wonder if Hannah would say that I’m as bad as anyone who was in her class that day when she asked the question…

I can understand why this book was a New York Times best-seller. It’s heartbreaking and so very sad – I got quite emotional whilst reading it and started tearing up.

Purchase the novel from:

Amazon / Book Depository