ARC Review: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher


title:  The S-Word 

author:  Chelsea Pitcher

pages: 304

format: Kindle

isbn/asin: 978-1451695168

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Pretty Little Liars, Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak), Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why), and similar books.  

My Ratings Explained

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.

the basics
I was excited about this one and it didn't let me down--but it did surprise me.  It's like Pretty Little Liars but darker, with suicide and rape playing center stage.  This book forces you to face some of the ugliest truths in high school.  The bullying.  The labeling.  The darkness behind the scenes.  Angie was a beautifully flawed character.  In her search for the truth about who drove her best friend to suicide, she finds out just as much about herself as she does Lizzie, and works through her own darkness.  Angie's insistence on finding the guilty parties masks her own guilt at abandoning her best friend in those last months.  It's a powerful story that puts a deeper spin on a murder mystery.  The plot twist?  I won't even hint, because it was so WOW that I had to put the book down for a second.  This book stayed with me long after I finished reading.  There were some plot points in the end that I found a little much, but overall, Pitcher does a great job of being edgy and authentic.  A must-read for teenagers everywhere.  

plot . 4/5
I mean, wow.  This was one of those books that made me want to skip human social interaction because I couldn't stop reading.  You know the mystery from the start.  Lizzie had sex with Angie's boyfriend on prom night.  Angie shunned her in misery.  People tormented Lizzie for months, and then she killed herself.  But there's so much more.  "Slut" in Lizzie's handwriting starts appearing spray-painted on lockers.  Pages of Lizzie's diary are being sent to the guilty parties.  In the midst is Angie, desperate to lessen the pain of Lizzie's loss by finding the guilty and bringing them to justice.  In it you find a twisted web of lies and secrets that's impossible to escape from.  I felt like a detective.  And when the twist hit, I was bowled over.  It was the kind of surprise that completely changed the book, but at the same time made so much sense.  My only beef was with the ending.  I found it a little over-the-top and a little unrealistic.  However, what I loved was seeing Angie grow and work through her own issues--to see her obsession with justice become madness and self-destruction, and to see her find her own peace.  It was incredibly powerful.  

concept . 5/5
Dead girl sending messages from the grave?  Pretty cool, especially when it doesn't involve ghosts.  It's like a mystery story as much as it is an "issues" book.  You follow Angie as she uncovers pieces of the puzzle.  People who had hurt Lizzie.  People who were involved in destroying her.  What makes it deeper than a revenge novel is Angie herself.  She's obviously deeply trouble, both with guilt about abandoning her friend to the cruel masses and with unresolved insecurities and fears.  That she's unlovable.  That she wasn't good enough for Lizzie.  This book is full of mysteries that are themselves full of psychological drama.  Cruel drama queens, camera-toting spies, a secret love, and more.  Surrounding it all is a commentary on race, gender, class, mental illness, and how these differences are treated in the maelstrom of high school.  It's unputdownable.  

characters . 5/5
Best part of it.  Everyone was so real.  Angie is richly layered.  She's the pretty, popular cheerleader.  The insecure loner.  The obsessed detective.  The mourning best friend.  Then there's Jesse, the skirt-wearing boy everyone calls a "gay freak", who becomes close to Angie and struggles to save her from her obsession.  There's the cruel cheerleader who has her own demons.  The inseparable hangers-on who torment others to protect their queen bee.  The ex-boyfriend who broke Angie's heart and caused a fatal rift.  Then there's Lizzie herself, the mysterious and beautiful memory you come to know through memories and journals.  She feels real in her absence and drives the story as much as the living characters.  Some of them are a little over-the-top, but these are people you might see in your own high school.  People you'll recognize, in one way or another.  

style . 4/5
Some people have given it flack, but I enjoyed it.  It was a little rough around the edges, but it felt authentic.  Angie's voice is clear through her narration, and also clearly distinct from Lizzie's diary entries.  The dialogue can get stilted and it could have used another round of edits for realism's sake, but nothing about the style was enough to tarnish this book for me.  In places, it's raw and edgy and devastating.  

mechanics . 4/5
Like I said, the dialogue was a little unbelievable sometimes.  I wanted to take a red crayon to it.     

take home message
A powerful teen drama that explore the butterfly effect of high school cruelty and one girl's struggle between self-destruction and justice.  

Note: I received this copy through Netgalley for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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