Monday, October 18, 2010

The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff

The Absolute Value of -1
Steve Brezenoff
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Released: September 1, 2010
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 296
Source: 1 ARC Tours
*Debut Author Challenge
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.
The Absolute Value of -1 is, well, a bit different. And I must say, I like different. The story follows Noah, Lily, and Simon and is mostly told from their three perspectives. Noah loves Lily who only has eyes for Simon who really doesn't give a crap. As they enter high school, it's as if time is moving too fast, too many things are happening simultaneously, and the once tight trio is being pulled apart at the seams. I felt like this is the same story of so many of our own lives, the ever-changing world around us and the way we deal - or don't deal - with it.

Thanks to 1 ARC Tours, I was able to read this copy before its release. Ideally I would have posted this review closer to that date, but this was a novel I had to digest slowly. When I finished it I sort of felt a bit shell-shocked and actually waited several days before starting anything new, which is most unlike me. The more I thought, and the more I continue to think about it, the more I appreciate its freshness. Steve Brezenoff's debut is raw and gritty and you can't read it without feeling a little dirty by the end. That said, it was painfully realistic and one of the best contemporary YA novels I've read this year. Who doesn't like a little dirt sometimes?

I was just talking the other day about my love for dual narratives, and this is another perfect example. It's technically not a dual narrative because there are actually four perspectives throughout the book, but you get the idea. The story begins with Lily, then we hear from Noah, and finally we end with Simon. These three voices are sandwiched by brief thoughts from Suzanne, Simon's older sister. As the story moves from voice to voice, things that were fuzzy become clear and each character becomes more human in the eyes of the reader. I must admit that during Lily's narrative, I was not a big fan. But as the story moved on to Noah and Simon, I really started to love her through their eyes. I almost wish the story would have circled back to her, but don't worry - it's kind of perfect the way it is.

With the recent fantasy craze (I'm a fan, too!), The Absolute Value of -1 is an excellent example of the greatness that can be found in contemporary YA. So the next time you need a break from faeries and dragons or if contempt is normally more your thing, consider picking up a copy of Steve Brezenoff's debut. In fact, it's available at Cavalier House Books. Stop by, say hi, and tell them I sent you ;)

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