Cover of The Absolute Value of -1, with the outlines of three figures in white surrounded by black and red scribbling

About the Book

Title: The Absolute Value of -1
Published: 2010
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

BFF Charm: No, But Maybe A Hug Instead?
Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit, Motherf*cker
Bonus Factors: Stoners, It’s A Wonderful Life
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

The Deal:

Lily, Noah, and Simon are, to put it lightly, pretty fucked up. And I don’t mean that in the party sense (although all three are total stoners). Lily’s got a shiteous mom, a paralyzing habit of hypothetically arguing with herself, and a hopeless crush on her best friend, Simon. He, of course, doesn’t really give a shizz, esp. since he’s got a super sick dad and a sister who may or may not be wanting to FITA it up with him. Throw in Noah, who dreams about Lily when he’s not busy selling drugs or getting punched by his father, and we’ve got ourselves one of the most miserable love triangles ever. Seriously, y’all, these three make the angst in Twilight feel like a dose of Prozac. But the most tragic thing about them isn’t the unrequited love–it’s the damage they share, which instead of serving as common ground, slowly pushes them further and further apart.

BFF Charm: No, But Maybe A Hug Instead?

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

It’s not that I don’t love these characters (well, besides Simon. I kind of sort of hate him). I really feel for Noah, and Lily could definitely use a bona fide bosom buddy. But I just don’t know if I have the strength to take them on as friends, let alone bffs. Noah, for example, has a good heart, but he covers it up by being REALLY HYPER AND OBNOXIOUS ALL OF THE TIME. Lily, god bless her, has massive craters in her self-esteem, most of which bear a striking resemblance to Simon, not to mention an inability to express her emotions in a remotely healthy way. Honestly, before I would even THINK of giving either of them a bff charm, I would give Lily a stern You’re So Much Better Than Him lecture and Noah a visit from CPS cos GAH HIS DAD IS A HORRIBLE HUMAN BEING (I’d also probably give him a brochure on just how much pot is too much). And then I’d give both of them a hug, because they really, really need it. Of course, Lily would probably kick me in the shin afterwards.

As for you, Simon, WTF DUDE. Listen, I get that your dad is sick and that’s really terrifying and sad and I can’t say that I know what that feels like (thank goodness) but THAT DOES NOT GIVE YOU AN EXCUSE TO BE AN ASSHOLE 24/7. I mean, 12/7, maybe. but ALL OF THE TIME? I want to rip out your damn earbuds, throw your emo journal in the trash and make you apologize to Lily RIGHT NOW. Also, henceforth I will be referring to you by the nickname Noah so aptly bestowed upon you, The Crowned Prince of Sadness.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Gah, the sexual tension/romance in this book is all kind of cussed up. I mean, on purpose, obvs, but IT MAKES ME V. UPSET AND I CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT ANYMORE SO LET’S MOVE ON.

Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit, Motherf*cker

Ok, first of all, MAJOR MAJOR pants to Steve Brezenoff for writing some of the most authentic teen dialogue EVER. And I don’t mean he uses “like” a lot. I mean he uses profanity a lot. A LOT a lot. And it’s completely dynamic and real and would even make a sailor (or FYAer) blush.

Second of all, the book is divided up into the three perspectives of Lily, Noah, and the Crowned Prince of Sadness, and Brezenoff completely nails each one. And just when you think shizz is real enough, IT GETS REALER. Even though the characters are going through the same story, there’s a lot of variance in their accounts due to individual perspectives and baggage. So whenever I spotted a difference between, say, how Lily reported something and how Simon viewed something, I had a sort of eureka moment, kinda like when the detectives on Law & Order separate two suspects and discover discrepancies in their story. Except instead of yelling, “BUSTED!” which I would totally do if I was on Law & Order, I just felt even closer to Lily, Noah, and yes, even the TCPoS, because I gained a deeper understanding of not only their reactions, but why they had those reactions.

Bonus Factor: Stoners

DUDE. Dude. If you were a stoner in high school, or even if you were like me and simply knew OF stoners, you will appreciate the accuracy of the pothead lifestyle in this book. I really admire Brezenoff for featuring drug usage in his book without being all D.A.R.E. about it.

Bonus FactorIt’s A Wonderful Life

Ok, bear with me here for a second. You know how George Bailey thinks his life is a hellhole of misery and then he gets to see how much worse it would be if he didn’t even exist, so he realizes that his life, is, in fact, awesome? Well, let’s just say that after experiencing the misery of Lily, Noah & TCPoS, your past teen self is gonna feel a LOT like George Bailey.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

You guys, I don’t know WHAT I’m going to do about this book. I’m drawn to its intensity, its rawness, its pain, and I desperately want to help it. But I can’t. And even if I could, I would be robbing it of the things that make it so brilliant. It’s like dating an artistic genius–you only get to experience the dizzying moments of beauty if you’re willing to put up with the terrible moods and erratic behavior. When this book and I are together, it’s crazy intense, but I know that if we stay together, it will break my heart. I’m an optimist, this book is a pessimist. I’m a happy person, this book is a manic depressive. We’re not talking tomato, tomahto here. But even though I’ll have to let this book slip into my past, I’ll always be thankful for the darkness it showed me, because it makes the light that much brighter.

FTC Full Disclosure: My review copy was a free ARC I received from Carolrhoda Lab. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). 

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.