Book Review: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

Title: The S-Word

Author: Chelsea Pitcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ½

Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, High-School-Drama

Publication Date: 7 May 2013 by Gallery Books

Synopsis: “First it was SLUT scribbled all over Lizzie Hart’s locker.

But one week after Lizzie kills herself, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie’s looping scrawl.

Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

The S-Word was overall a wonderful debut novel from Pitcher. The concept and execution of the novel was well done, interesting enough that I enjoyed it as a novel in its entirety. The issues the book brings up are not easy topics to talk about, especially for teenagers in high school. The death of a fellow classmate could very well shatter a person – and we see this happening through the main protagonist, Angie, whose best friend threw herself off the school’s clock tower following a series of bullying incidents.

The novel follows some cliche plots but breaks through the mould as well. It’s characters are more human than first expected with a story set in a high school environment. At first glimpse, when seeing ‘the s-word’, I thought, “Oh no, here we go again. A story about the popular people tormenting a girl into suicide…”, but this story was so much more than that. It is a story about survival, secrets and seclusion … well much high school. It is also a story about blame, revenge and forgiveness and about moving on from a tragedy.

We follow Angie as she tries to solve the mystery behind Lizzie’s suicide, laying blame on those that took part and most of all on herself. She spends the majority of the novel trying to figure out who exactly is responsible for pushing Lizzie to the edge and letting her fall to her death. I’ve noticed some reviews portray Angie as hypocritical in the sense that she herself played a major role in Lizzie’s death. This is definitely true, but Angie knows that – the person she blames the most is herself, for ignoring and abandoning her best friend when she needed her most, even when she believed Lizzie had betrayed her and broke her heart. I’m not sure how those reviewers could miss the many pages showing Angie’s torment, and blame on herself – so much so that she had carved ‘killer’ into her own skin for the part she believed she played towards her best friend’s suicide.

I found Angie to be a strong-willed and strong-hearted character. We watch with sadness as she falls deeper into the dark pit of loss and  holds our breath as we wait for her to finally snap and possibly self-destruct herself. If it wasn’t for the eccentric Jesse, she would probably have done so. His friendship and support played a major part in helping Angie get back on her feet. However, I thought the need for Jesse to become a romantic interest was unnecessary. I liked him the way he was in the beginning – free and individualistic. His friendship would have been enough to stabilise Angie’s state of mind, so the little twist of romance was unneeded in my opinion. But he was definitely my favourite character in the novel and it was nice to see a little glimpse of his backstory as well.

Another character that I liked was Kennedy. Portrayed as the most popular girl in school, her motives and actions depict a person that is completely different to the cliched queen bee. What we usually forget about the queen bees are the fact that they’re also people – with a past and their own memories. Readers usually jump to the conclusion that they’re the root of all evil in high school, but Kennedy breaks through this mould. That was refreshing to read about, even though her past was nothing short of horrific.

I think the one thing that kept me from giving this book a higher rating was the psych of its main character, Angie. Her need and thirst for revenge in bringing down everyone that played a role in Lizzie’s suicide was a little psychotic, to put it bluntly. I was surprised no one even suggested to her that maybe she should consider seeing a counsellor, especially when everyone knew she was Lizzie’s best friend. You would think that the school would at least hold a session for all of Lizzie’s friends, just to help them through this traumatic situation. But instead, we watch as Angie spirals downwards as all signs point to her going a little cray cray. And her parents, my god! I understand that she’s a neglected only-child, but jeez, there is bad-parenting and then there is what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you parenting. Her mum seemed like she didn’t even know her daughter’s best friend had died. And her dad seemed like he was even worse off in stability of the mind than Angie did. With family that this, it was no wonder the girl was going a little cray cray.

/SPOILER/ I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was necessary to ruin someone’s life completely by ousting them as a rapist at their own graduation ceremony. While I know Drake deserved to be caught, I just can’t help but think the way Angie went about it was totally unfair and a little over the top. Everyone she went after for revenge was portrayed by her as evil-incarnate, but in reality they were just people who made a mistake, know they’re guilty and now have the live with the consequences. But with Angie, she was extreme enough to want to ruin their lives for it. I’m glad she kind of redeemed herself by not ruining everyone’s lives (just Drakes), but even so, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth knowing that no one even bothers to think that what she’d been doing was wrong – especially the little twist revealed that she was the one behind the diary drop-offs and writing suicide slut in Lizzie’s handwriting. /SPOILER/

The S-Word is an overall very enjoyable read. It raises many issues for discussion and reveals a human side to many cliched characters that you wouldn’t expect in normal high school novels. I think Pitcher did a wonderful job in her debut novel and I look forward to her future work.

THANKS TO: Gallery Books on Netgalley for providing an eARC for me to read and review honestly.

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