Is it okay to hate a dead kid? Even if you loved him once? Even if he was my best friend? Is it okay to hate him for being dead?
Charlie is dead. Vera was his best friend, until she wasn't anymore. She loved him, until she hated him. Until he turned his back on her. And now he's dead, and she knows more than she's told about how Charlie died. But she's paralyzed by her complicated feelings of love and hate towards Charlie, by her own guilt about what she did and didn't do before he died, and by a lifetime of being told not to get involved.
Vera broke my heart. It wasn't just everything that she goes through over the course of the book (and does she ever go through a lot), it was her almost desperate need to ignore her conflicted emotions. Ignore, don't get involved, move on. And we see enough of her history to see how and why she got this way. But I didn't just feel for her. I felt for her father, unable to fully deal with being left by Vera's mother, haunted by his own alcoholism and the fear of Vera being just like him, and ill-equipped to love or show love. I felt for Charlie, horrible as he can be at times, because I can see how little prepared he was to make any better choices.
I think that's the strength of King here, that her characters are real and sympathetic and have fully believable voices. But the resolutions that do come can be a little neat. Vera's drinking problem is solved rather too easily, as is the relationship with her father. I was able to read that as steps in the right direction, and not as the final say on the situation, but that could have used more clarification.
Still, though I didn't love this book unreservedly, King did make me ache for her characters. Her treatment of grief and the complicated, conflicting emotions it can bring up was one of the most realistic I've read in a long time. And I will remember it, and especially Vera, for even longer.