Book Review: the s-word by Chelsea Pitcher

the s-wordthe s-word
Chelsea Pitcher
Gallery Books, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-9516-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Lizzie wasn’t the first student at Verity High School to kill herself this year. But the difference is, she didn’t go quietly.

First it was SLUT scribbled all over the school’s lockers. But one week after Lizzie Hart takes her own life, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie’s own looping scrawl. Photocopies of her diary show up in the hands of her classmates. And her best friend, Angie, is enraged.

Angie had stopped talking to Lizzie on prom night, when she caught Lizzie in bed with her boyfriend. Too heartbroken to let Lizzie explain the hookup or to intervene when Lizzie gets branded Queen of the Sluts and is cruelly bullied by her classmates, Angie left her best friend to the mercy of the school, with tragic results.

But with this new slur, Angie’s guilt transforms into anger that someone is still targeting Lizzie even after her death. Using clues from Lizzie’s diary and aided by the magnetic, mysterious Jesse, Angie begins relentlessly investigating who, exactly, made Lizzie feel life was no longer worth living. And while she might claim she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, her anguish over abandoning and then losing her best friend drives Angie deeper into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Sometimes it seems to be just a little thing that leads to a teen deciding to end her life but those little things loom very large in the minds of young people who are already awash in emotions just from life in general. In the s-word, we experience the journey of a girl who thought she was terribly wronged and another who truly was. The question is which is which or is it both?

I had an awful lot of affection and empathy for both Lizzie and Angie and their stories, which are really just two parts of the same story, pierced me to the heart. So much love, so much history, so much pain, , so much regret. In the final analysis, that little thing was not so little after all and it is at the center of at least one truth that could not be revealed lest it lead to disaster. How sad is it that not revealing it led to disaster anyway? In a powerful tale of heartbreak, it’s easy to understand Angie’s anguish about her best friend’s death and about the part she played in Lizzie’s decision.

Besides the two major players, I also really liked Jesse and, surprisingly, Kennedy. I do have to say, though, that I was a little put off by the rampant sex and alcohol. I’m not blind to teen behavior but this seemed a tad overboard, at least in the complete obliviousness of all the adults. Surely today’s parents and teachers are not all so divorced from reality and willing to abdicate their duty to look after the kids, at least not most of the ones I know.

Chelsea Pitcher is a good writer and there is very little about this book that I see in a negative light. I do wish some of the secondary characters had been a little more developed—I would have loved to know Kennedy better—and I found Angie to be a bit too devious and single-minded, not to mention being kind of a ridiculous “investigator”. Still, I believe the sleuthing activity was intended by the author to lighten the mood just a little and it was, in truth, a welcome distraction from the sadness. This is a worthwhile entry in the class of books about teen bullying and suicide and I’ll look forward to reading more by this author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2013.