Monday, December 05, 2011

Review: The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff

Title: The Absolute Value of -1
Author: Steve Brezenoff
Publisher: Carolrhoda
Release date: September 1st 2010
Pages: 264
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
Find out more: Amazon ; Goodreads

Goodreads description:
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.

First sentence:
A dark wood lentern, and this doctor I've met - maybe twice? - kissed me on the cheek and called me Susan.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved Steve Brezenoff's Brooklyn, Burning (review), so I was really excited to read his debut. While the writing is just as great in The Absolute Value of -1, I didn't like it quite as much as Brooklyn, Burning, just because I couldn't really connect to two of the main characters.

The book starts out with a chapter from Suzanne's point of view. That part really confused me, but I figured that was the point and just kept reading. Then there's a longer part from Lily's point of view, which I really, really liked. Lily's a great, fully-developed character, and I could easily relate to her and her unrequited love for Simon. I'm not even sure what it was about her that made me like her so much, but I did. Her voice is great and so real. I loved Lily's humor and all of her quirks - the way she thinks is unique and so entertaining.

Then came Noah's part. I felt for Noah, too, since his life definitely hasn't been easy, but... I don't know. For some reason, I just didn't like him all that much. Technically, his character is good, too, complex, flawed and realistic. But personally, I just couldn't connect to him. Maybe I could have, if I'd read about him longer, but his part is by far the shortest and there's no real development in his story, so I never built up a real relationship with Noah.

And then there's Simon. Honestly, I disliked Simon from his first chapter on, when he describes Lily as "short and sort of on the ugly side." Maybe I was still hung up on liking Lily so much, but it really upset me how he could say something like that about Lily, knowing how much she likes him. I liked him less and less as the story continued - how he leads Lily on, doesn't care at all about her feelings, starts hanging out with Melanie, and doesn't even feel the need to properly break up with Lily - ugh! I wanted to slap him throughout the book. Again, he's a well-written character, and I felt for him about the whole thing with his family, but I just couldn't see past what an ass he is to Lily. And when I can't relate to a character, it's really hard for me to get into a story, so I felt somewhat removed from everything that happened to Simon.

The writing, however, is what made this book work - like I said in my review of Brooklyn, Burning, Steve Brezenoff's prose is sparse but beautiful, matter-of-fact most of the time but still conveys loads of emotions, and addresses lots of issues without sounding preachy. That's what carried the novel, for me (aside from Lily - I just love Lily...).

I feel bad for giving The Absolute Value of -1 just 3 stars - it's a really, really good book, and it's more like 3.5 stars. But I don't give star ratings to show whether a book is bad or good; they're about how much I personally enjoyed them, and I couldn't really get into a large part of the book because I disliked the narrators. Since relating to characters is different for everyone, though, I do recommend The Absolute Value of -1, simply because Steve Brezenoff's writing is amazing. But if you haven't read either The Absolute Value of -1 or Brooklyn, Burning, I'd recommend reading Brooklyn, Burning first.


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