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Review: The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff

05 Oct

The Absolute Value of -1My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I have to start by saying that I picked up this book because of its name.  As a math nerd, I love it!

Summary via Goodreads.com:

The absolute value of any number, positive or negative, is its distance from zero: |-1| = 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.

This book isn’t a flavor of YA that I normally read for myself, and it isn’t one that I’d be looking at to recommend to my 12 year old daughter.  It’s hard to figure out what perspective I should be looking at it from– that of an adult reading for pleasure?  An adult reading for perspective on teens? Whether I think a teen would enjoy it?  Whether I’d suggest it to teens?

This book got off to a slow start for me. I found Lily interesting in a fairly abstract way, but I never found her or her story compelling.  I wanted to like her, and her interest in math called to me, and the way she pursued her friend, hoping to move to a different relationship was certainly familiar from many years ago.  Maybe those years are just too long past…

It really picked up for me when the book switched viewpoints, and I started to see Noah’s perspective on some of the same events. If anything, Noah is a less interesting character, but the shift really pulled me in.

Then I got to Simon’s section. I hadn’t been interested in him either, but once I saw his perspective, and the parts of his story that he didn’t share with his friends, this was the best part of the book.

His story was also the most touching and the most real, since he was dealing with significant personal issues. He could have (and often did) hide from them, but in the end, they found him and he faced them.

I do wish that the book had completed the circle and returned to Lily’s point of view. I think I would have appreciated her more at that point.

All three characters were fairly self centered teens. Personally, I didn’t like the casual smoking and drugs in the book. I’m not saying it was unrealistic or shouldn’t be there, but that did cut down on the personal appeal of the book.  Other than that, the darker feel actually did work for me– I’m not looking for all sweetness and light.

In the end, I found the book interesting and well executed. I think the slower first part was necessary to get to the depth of the last section..  I think a younger (teen or close to it) reader would have an easier time relating to the characters.  On the other hand, I think there’s more to see in the parallel stories than I caught in my rather drawn out reading.

Other reviews:

Thanks to the publisher, I was able to download this book from NetGalley.com for review.

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Posted by on October 5, 2010 in books, reviews

 

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