***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book. Spoilers ahead.***
I thought PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ was lovely. King has a distinctive voice. Her prose is excellent--I can see why she's already a literary powerhouse. I really enjoyed the frank realism of the magical parts. I loved Vera's wounded voice; in fact I loved all the characters. It was awesome to have a fully-fleshed-out parent on the scene for once. The setting was beautifully realized. Many of Vera's frailties were so convincing, like the way she embarked on the relationship with James but you could see small insights into how young she was--that she wasn't ready for him, even though on the outside (and to people like Marie) she looked ready.
I always have questions and minor quibbles, though...so here goes...
Vera's personal conflict--not wanting the kids at school to discover that her mom was a stripper (for only two months), and not wanting herself to become a slut or to have a baby out of wedlock--was just slightly weak for the strength of the rest of the plot, particularly given how brilliant and perceptive King made Vera. Yes, when her classmates finally found out her secret her life was hell for a couple of weeks, but was that really a strong enough motivator, to be the sole and driving force in her adolescence? It's a small flaw, though, because I think King tried hard to show that 1. it was a small town and perhaps oppressively narrow-minded, and 2. Vera's parents were stunted (let's not even mention Charlie's parents), so that Vera was left too much on her own to develop both a philosophy about her life and personal strength (something that's hard to do with no guidance). King also did a great job of showing how Charlie's life would be nearly impossible for a child to survive intact, and how he slowly lost control.
Was it believable that Vera would hold back information that could clear Charlie's name for so long? I wasn't entirely convinced. Was it believable that her upbringing (of ignoring problems--e.g. not intervening in the Kahns' abusive household, and not addressing her mom's abandonment) was her sole guide in her moral dilemma? For me, the answer is mostly yes. I just had little waffling feelings, because even though Vera said she hated Charlie for those five weeks (or was it five months?), I thought King deftly represented Vera's love as being truer than her hate. And again, I thought King made Vera a little too smart to wait nine months to exonerate a friend.
I loved the patchwork construction of the reader's knowledge about the past. But then I wasn't sure why, after such a long build-up to the mystery, we didn't get all the answers. I'm torn over whether more complete answers were necessary for the investment we put in, or an acceptable plot choice. Most of the remaining mystery is Charlie's, and he's dead, and Vera points out more than once that there's nothing anyone can do about that fact. I'm sure that's why King did it--they're Charlie's secrets--but I still felt that we traveled with King in good faith that we'd learn the answers, and then we didn't.
--Was Charlie being sexually abused by John? I wasn't sure whether he truly had diarrhea (which might have come from anal intercourse), or whether he used that excuse with his mother for why his underwear was disappearing so regularly and she dragged him to the doctor as a result. He did in fact say that the doctor put him on (an unnamed) medication, which I thought implied the diarrhea was a real symptom he was having.
--Most important: why did Charlie tell Vera to go to the pet store? Did he think she could stop Jenny? And was it just cowardliness that made him show up at John's instead of joining Vera at 7 PM? Were we supposed to think--and this may be a stretch, because there's very little to support it--that Jenny paid John off (possibly with sexual favors) to overdose Charlie with pills? (I seem to recall Charlie taking something like ten of them...so it could also have been a kind of reckless, suicidal act.) After all, Charlie did say that Jenny was going to kill him.
In the end I felt that King wasn't willing to go as full bore with the darkness as the story needed. She wasn't willing to leave Vera with the uncertainty that life really has. Perhaps King felt protective about either our feelings as readers, or Vera's feelings as the main character. Four things nag at me as being "too-safe" choices: 1. that Vera was given an opportunity to open her heart to Charlie before he died and tell him how he hurt her ("You flew paper airplanes with them at the Pagoda; you allowed them to carve their initials in the oak, etc."); 2. that Charlie was able to tell her he loved her via the napkin letter; 3. that Charlie was able to give her--in a neat, bulging yellow envelope--everything that she'd need to implicate John and Jenny. I had thought all along that one of the reasons Vera was so conflicted about Charlie's death was perhaps that she hadn't been able to voice her feelings to him before he died. But in fact she had. And belatedly, he gets to voice his feelings to her, which is incredibly reassuring, and one of the pieces she needs to be able to get the courage to clear his name, but is maybe too pat in the form of a letter. And how much more difficult would it have been for her to tell the police without having physical evidence? How much more of a sacrifice? And finally, with respect to King's deliberate "trimming" of darkness: 4. I wanted Vera to have an uncomfortable sex experience with James. I mean he was 23. King did a good job of making him a bit stunted, but it's still hard to believe they'd have so many heavy kissing sessions in a car and never take it further.
This is all Monday-morning quarterbacking. I'm not even sure I'm right, or that I would change a thing if I were the author. I just had nagging feelings about some of these plot choices as the story was wrapping up. But I think as a writer King is fascinated by themes and ideas, not necessarily in perfecting plots. It's still a very strong book.