The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 304 pages
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: bullying, suicide, friendships
Format read: ARC from NetGalley via Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: When Angie’s best friend commits suicide, she launches into a full-on investigation to find out who continues to tarnish Lizzie’s reputation with the proclamation of SLUT written on her locker and her old journal entries showing up all over school. Angie faces tough truths about her friendship (that wasn’t so solid during Lizzie’s last days) and the downward spiral of hatred at her high school.
Whoa. Chelsea Pitcher has painted such a dark and unforgiving portrait of high school that had me thanking my lucky stars I would never have to go back.
Angie is determined to figure out who continues to tarnish the reputation of her ex-best friend Lizzie who just committed suicide because it would take a person with a pretty sick sense of humor to do that, right? The S-Word begins on shaky footing because there is just so much that is unknown, including how Angie really feels about her friend’s death. Her attitude was a little too distanced to me, the setting a little too film noir, and without a firm grasp on my narrator, I found myself sluggishly making my way through the earlier chapters of the book.
When I least expected it though, as Angie continued to dig deeper into the lives of her high school peers, I was truly swept up into the intertwining storylines, childhood tragedies that had yet to heal, and the secrets uncovered that carefully tied the everything (and everyone) together. While I’m not sure all the intersected plotlines were entirely necessary, you could see that Pitcher put a lot of care into crafting her writing, creating such a complex and multi-arced story. She even folds in some of Lizzie’s journal entries; the insight they provided and Lizzie’s voice in general were a highlight for my own reading experience and gave me some time to breathe as the story grew more and more unfortunate and out of control.
The biggest takeaway from The S-Word is how much we just may not know about the people who are the closest to us and how much trust and bravery is required to truly be yourself (especially in such a toxic environment). The experiences we bury away, the secrets we keep may cause a domino effect of events we can’t even begin to fathom.
Despite the book’s summary, I wasn’t expecting something quite so dark and full of tangled, tangled webs. But I do applaud Pitcher’s complex storytelling, as well as her cast of diverse characters (why oh why is this so uncommon), a unique (tension-filled) romance, and ability to embed some serious surprises.