Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Review: The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff (Blog Tour Stop)


The absolute value of any number, positive or negative, is its distance from zero: |-1| = 1

Noah, Lily, and Simon have been a trio forever. But as they enter high school, their relationships shift and their world starts to fall apart. Privately, each is dealing with a family crisis—divorce, abuse, and a parent's illness. Yet as they try to escape the pain and reach out for the connections they once counted on, they slip—like soap in a shower. Noah’s got it bad for Lily, but he knows too well Lily sees only Simon. Simon is indifferent, suddenly inscrutable to his friends. All stand alone in their heartache and grief.

In his luminous YA novel, Steve Brezenoff explores the changing value of relationships as the characters realize that the distances between them are far greater than they knew.


The Short Version:
A multiple voice narrative, each distinct in it's own way, and a hugely realistic portrayal of events make The Absolute Value of -1 a painful but enlightening read. The interactions between these three friends aren't as great as they seem, and the slow realization for the trio comes as a new shock, each time. Mixing in love and lust, drugs, and a need for both connection and solidarity, Brezenoff has pitched a beautiful look that will resonate with plenty. The writing shifts slightly with each new section and character perspective, but still holds a strong, connected note that ties all three together and to the author. Though the ending was abrupt and left me feeling confused in some ways, the overall story is phenomenally well done and beautiful in its integrity and realism.

The Extended Version:
Unflinchingly raw and achingly real, The Absolute Value of -1 centers around three teens who are a mess of their own making, bringing each other down in the process. With insight straight into all three character's minds, the reader gains a strong connection to each.

Lily is sarcastic and flippant, but struggling with the divorce of her parents and the often constant presence of her mom's post-split boyfriend. Much of what she does centers around wanting Simon to notice her, and her several year long crush on him is painful and palpable. Things through her eyes have a certain dominating depressed air about them, with bits of hope and happiness mixed in. Watching the way Noah acts towards her is frustrating, and Simon often comes off an uncaring jerk- but that's only through her eyes.

Noah loves girls, especially Lily. His seemingly harassing comments, when seen with his perspective, are failing attempts at compliments. Brezenoff handles this forwardness beautifully, painting a highly realistic and gripping teenager. Noah spends much of his time getting high, and smokes cigarettes in the intervals. He provides Lily and Simon, and it often seems as though the weed is the only real tie this trio has. Mixing in Noah's home life creates a sympathetic edge to a brash character, tying the entire picture up in a great way.

Simon was the most intriguing of the three for me. His uncaring nature takes a new turn once the reader is thrust into his mind. With flashbacks of growing up, his closeness to his sister, and his relatively tight-knit family now having to deal with the father's sickness, Simon has more on his plate than he knows what to do with. While he knows about Lily and Simon's home lives, he hides his own worries and fears. Feeling a growing need to get his life back on track, Simon starts pushing away from the others before he even realizes it. Simon's section was the most heartbreaking and thought provoking, and absolutely unadulterated in its reality.

Despite the three different sections, each with a different character's narrative, Brezenoff kept the pace relatively steady. This isn't a high action book, but rather an intimate look into these character's minds and lives. The same general time line is told from each perspective, shedding new light on the same events or giving it a different angle. All three characters were gutting and flawed, but that added to the striking realism infused throughout the pages of this book.

Things build quickly towards the end of the book and explode in a shocking ending. The final section, which mirrors the beginning and gives a brief glimpse into the mind of Suzanne, Simon's sister, throws an interesting hook that I admittedly had a hard time swallowing. Though I felt the ending was jarring in its abruptness, that in part due to how deeply connected to the characters I felt. The final section and ending are the only criticisms I have of this otherwise stunning book. These three are facing real issues, handling them with all the fumbles that could be expected and more, and Brezenoff doesn't hold anything back in their portrayal.

Source: Finished copy received for review from author as part of a blog tour with The {Teen} Book Scene
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0761354174
ISBN-13: 978-0761354178


  1. I've got this one on Netgalley for review, so I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the awesome review. :)

  2. I haven't heard much about this book but it looks amazing! Awesome Review!

  3. I haven't heard of this book but it sounds pretty interesting. Thanks for the great review :)