Monday, October 4, 2010

The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff

Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)

Book synopsis: 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 that Lily sees only Simon. Simon is indifferent, suddenly inscrutable to friends. All stand alone in their heartache and grief.

My review: There are some books I can get into easily, while others take some time, and then there are some I give up on. These three all share one thing in common: connection. Reading is ultimately an experience shared between the author's words and the reader. If the story doesn't connect with me what's the point in continuing? I approached The Absolute 
Value of -1 wondering: the synopsis grabbed me, would I like what I found inside?

Yes, I did. The Absolute Value of -1 really connected with me. I came away from the book fully understanding the four narrators who shared with me their viewpoints about life, love and friendship. 


The book begins with Lily and I found her version a little off at times, but I got her. She's in love with Simon, one of the two guys she hangs with. Her parents are divorced and she's a math whiz. I loved her relating math to music and how her teacher wanted her to participate in the Math Fair but she didn't (or deep down did she really,hmm). Lily knows her relationship with Simon is purely one-sided but she doesn't give up on him, until she has to.

The second guy of their makeshift group is Noah. He sells pot and smokes it too. His father is abusive and he dreams of hitting his old man. He loves Lily and knows she only has feelings for Simon, the last of their group of cigarette/pot smoking/class cutting/loser friends. He's a mixed up mess of a kid who likes to write and finds out his dad has cancer. His relationship with his older sister, Suzanne, is past the point of being normal and he cries too easily. The fourth narrator, although very brief, is Suzanne. She is away at college until her dad's health emergency brings her home.

I liked Brezenoff's writing, especially the job he did with Simon's voice. Simon had some epic lines. My favorites included: "I strolled into the kitchen to look for signs of motherhood," and "Those icicles of suburban waste had seen so many kids like me sitting here." I also thought Simon's character was the best written and the most complex. Even though I didn't like him much, I felt his pain and the scene with his sister in the hospital restroom really touched me. My favorite character had to be Noah, all tough guy exterior with the soft heart of someone pining for a girl he'll never have and the father who will never love him.

Four people, four different voices and perspectives. Brezenoff weaves their unique perspectives together succinctly and effortlessly. Being a teen is a time of turmoil, roller coaster emotions, explosive hormones--there's so much going on and this book shows the difficulty of these years through the four very different words of contemporary youths. The Absolute Value of -1 just proves that sometimes we don't truly know some of the faces we hang with everyday and consider 'friends'. But that's not to say what they have to offer isn't worth hearing. It is and that was the beauty of this novel. 



I may be a fantasy junkie when it comes to books but I will admit 2010 has had some amazing contemporary YA novels published. When you tire of vamps, werewolves and other creatures, sink your teeth into something worthy. Like this.

Rating: ++++

Favorite excerpt: This is from Simon's perspective. (From page 257, ARC edition.)

"In my head, it was already done. I was already there--past smoking, and past Lily and that whole depressing situation, and if I never saw Noah again, it would be too soon. I decided, probably right when Noah hit the ground, that I had my own little cancer to fight, and it was growing fast in me, and the best way to beat it was to run."

Cover comment: Actually, after reading the book I thought the image of the artwork conveyed the message of the story accurately.

Book source: 1 ARC Tours

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