Like the Red Panda

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Overview

Stella Parrish is seventeen, attractive, smart, deeply alienated, and unable to countenance life's absurdities. She is not nihilistic; she is prematurely exhausted. Since her parents OD'd on designer drugs when she was eleven, she has lived with well-meaning but inexperienced foster parents, while her grandfather, her only living relative, tries ever more ingenious ways of committing suicide in his retirement home. Here are the last two weeks of Stella's senior year in Orange County, California: the intensive AP ...

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Overview

Stella Parrish is seventeen, attractive, smart, deeply alienated, and unable to countenance life's absurdities. She is not nihilistic; she is prematurely exhausted. Since her parents OD'd on designer drugs when she was eleven, she has lived with well-meaning but inexperienced foster parents, while her grandfather, her only living relative, tries ever more ingenious ways of committing suicide in his retirement home. Here are the last two weeks of Stella's senior year in Orange County, California: the intensive AP final exams; the childish, celebratory trips; the totemic importance attached to graduation. Beneath Stella's mordantly funny take on her life is the decisiveness with which she disengages from it, planting clues and providing explanations for those who will try to understand the act she is about to commit. With perfect pitch, remarkable wit, and a spare, vivid prose, Stella turns her farewell to suburbia into a wry philosophical inquiry.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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Stella Parrish is an observant, clever, high school senior, finishing up her spring term, and slated to enter Princeton University in the fall. But Stella may never get there -- because she's systematically preparing to end her life.

Stella is the protagonist of Seigel's debut novel, and Stella's increasing detachment from her home, her school, and her friends will send a shiver through anyone who thinks the suburbs are a safe place to raise kids. True, Stella's story is an uncommon one. Both of her parents died of a drug overdose on Stella's 11th birthday, and her only living relative, a belligerent grandfather, lives in a nursing home, where he regularly antagonizes the staff. Her foster parents are aloof, and when Stella begins to cut classes at school, her principal attributes this behavior to an advanced case of "senioritis."

Nevertheless, Stella lives in an upper-middle-class suburb, surrounded by students who care about their performance in school. But Stella spends her days wandering around, having unproductive conversations with nearly everyone in her life, none of whom recognizes the severity of her problems or throws out a safety net. Like the Red Panda is funny, dark, and hugely important. And it should provoke a closer look at the seemingly contented teenagers we think we know. (Summer 2004 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
Astute, confident and keenly articulated, 24-year-old Seigel's debut about the life and times of an intelligent, disaffected teen is bleak but sharply humorous, and even redemptive. It's the last two weeks of high school for Stella Parrish, whose parents died of a heroin overdose when she was 11; at 17 she is trying to decide between Princeton and oblivion. Despite her smarts and sense of humor, Stella has few friends, a strained relationship with her dazed, slightly inept foster parents and what most teachers would call a bad attitude. Through her sharp, perceptive first-person narration, she offers a Holdenesque view of her upper-middle-class Orange County, Calif., town and all its hypocrisy, the stupidities faced in classrooms and the absurdity of senior year rituals. About a class trip to the zoo, she scoffs, "Yesterday... the kids were spitting on the walls and flicking off people they couldn't wait to get away from, and today they're on the bus with the majority of their graduating class. Even the rebels show up...." In between, Stella visits her nihilistic grandfather, who entertains her with the problems of his own life and plots ways to do himself in. Thick with believable character and detail, though somewhat thin on dramatic momentum, Seigel's novel is a keen portrait of young American angst and all its ironic posturing. The result veers between an earnest critique of the Columbine era and Heathers-like parody, which leaves its conclusion half tragedy, half punch line. Agent, Cressida Connelly. (Apr.) Forecast: This may attract more teen readers than adults, and should convince even the most jaded with its compelling blend of cynicism and innocence. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut should not be mistaken for a typical story about an angst-ridden suburban teenager struggling to comprehend the world. Seigel deftly turns this genre on its head, giving us the formidable Stella Parrish, one of the most startling narrators to come down the fiction pike in a while. Stella's parents died from a drug overdose at her swanky 11th birthday party in California, leaving Stella (now 17) to live with detached foster parents Simon and Shana. Taking place in the two weeks before graduation, the novel acts as Stella's mental journal and is saturated with quietly evoked observations and characters, among them Stella's cantankerous grandfather, who continually tries to kill himself, and Stella's pseudo-boyfriend, Daniel, with whom she desperately fumbles toward love. Through penetrating vernacular, Stella speaks as an inquisitive, funny, alienated young woman who is unsure whether a future at Princeton or an AP test or life itself means anything. The naturalness of Seigel's prose-only the title's metaphor seems forced-makes the ending that much more devastating. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Prudence Peiffer, Cambridge, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156030243
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/4/2004
  • Series: Harvest Book Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

ANDREA SEIGEL is the author of Like the Red Panda. Twenty-six years old, she's currently working on her MFA from Bennington College and lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

FRIDAY, JUNE 13

This afternoon in drama (I'm taking it because Mrs. Amis said I needed to show interest in the arts on my transcript, and I can't draw) I was supposed to be throwing a fake beach ball up and down, but I just couldn't do it anymore. Last semester I was ready to drop out the day Mr. Nichols made us have fake arguments with our scene partners and Danielle Reinhardt theater-slapped me for "stealing her boyfriend" when everybody knows she's a lesbian. I was there onstage, realizing the complete pointlessness of debating about things that don't exist as she slammed me across the side of my face and forgot to cup her hand the right way. My eye was throbbing so I turned to Mr. Nichols midscene and said, "Can I please go to the nurse?" because I honestly thought I might have a broken blood vessel. But he just said, "Tell it to Danielle! Tell her how you feel!" I wanted to give him the evil eye, but couldn't, and thought to myself, "Tomorrow I'm getting a drop slip."

But then Mrs. Amis, my counselor, said that Princeton probably wouldn't look favorably upon my dropping a class three months into the semester, especially since I had written my personal statement about "my love of performance" (the topic being in no way my idea, sorry). So I went back to drama the next day and played fake tennis and did depressing monologues about the circus and generally dealt with it. But then today, when Mr. Nichols told me that my beach ball wasn't going high enough (and considering that it's invisible, how did he know?), I knew I was done. That's it. There comes a point when you're just too exhausted to pretend to have fun at a beach that doesn't exist.

So, essentially, I let the ball drop. Ha. Ha. Ha. And when I did, the smell of the room hit me. That smell that seems to come straight from the hard orange carpet that they like to put in all the classrooms. It's the smell of countless sweaty high school bodies and the nervous energy that emanates from their armpits whenever they're put on the spot. And I looked over at John Steiner's acne, which is the kind that's so deep under the skin that you want to rush the kid to the emergency room before his face dies. His forehead and nose were so shiny under those hot lights and he was smiling up at his fake ball, beaming, and I just couldn't take his naive optimism. John looked like he was having the most fantastic, perfect, idyllic fake day at the beach I ever saw. I don't want to be too mean, and I hope he never reads this, but the guy exhausted me.

So as Mr. Nichols stood next to John asking what color his ball was, I started to back toward the corner where the piano sits. Somewhere in my mind I heard John happily yelling, "It's rainbow colored!" but mostly the blood was rushing to my brain as the extreme stress of being somewhat bad hit me. I ducked down behind the piano, my heart beating ridiculously fast. I've never even gotten a U (unsatisfactory) in P.E. and I never talk when a teacher is talking. Not because I think it's wrong, but just because I know I shouldn't. So sitting behind that piano was huge for me. Huge. I can't even say exactly why I did it, except for the smell and John's acne, and maybe also because of the lights. Just imagine thirty people throwing their arms up and down like they're crazy, and every time they do this warm air hits you in the cheek. It's awful. I told myself to breathe out and I tipped my head back against the wall. I opened my eyes and saw Mr. Nichols was standing over me.

"Did your ball roll over into the marshlands?"

"What?" I asked.

"I'm wondering why you're ducking behind this sand dune."

If Mr. Nichols had gotten me on any other second besides this one, then I would have said, "I lost control of my ball in these high winds. They're blowing mighty fierce today." But like I said before, I was just exhausted and wanting to put my index fingers on my nostrils and close them off forever. So I just said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

He kind of laughed a little. You don't expect these kinds of things from the students who've done everything you've asked for nine and a half months straight.

"Stella, just pick up your ball and get it going again." His mustache twitched.

The twitch made me nauseous, and all I could think to say was, "No."

"What?"

"No. I'm sorry. No." I got light-headed. Mr. Nichols looked so disappointed I almost couldn't take it. I was almost about to do what he wanted, but his disappointment wasn't strong enough to change how tired I felt.

"Stella, you won't throw the ball?" He asked this like he was hopeful, like I still had time left to save everything. But I was surprised to find out that for the first time at school, I didn't care about fixing things, so I told him, "No. I'm sorry. I'm done."

Mr. Nichols had no choice but to make an example out of me. Because by then everyone had stopped playing on the "shore" and they were all watching us. He told me to go to the principal and he trilled the l at the end. His face turned red and then white.

The only other time I've been in the principal's office was when I went to pick up my Warrior award sophomore year. You get a Warrior award if a teacher nominates you for being exceptional, and there's this whole awards ceremony, but I couldn't go that particular year because of the flu. Anyway, you have to pick up your certificate from the principal because he shakes your hand and tells you how proud he is. The real irony is that the students that get the Warrior awards are the ones who are completely anonymous to the principal because he only sees the bad kids on a regular basis. So really, the kids he's got a deep relationship with are the ones who steal keys from teachers' desks and throw freshmen against walls. Normally I don't cause problems, so I don't think he knew my name before today, but maybe he knew my face.

When I walked across campus to go see Mr. Frankel, I tried not to look at the kids in the quad who never seem to go to class at all. I know one of them, Larome Nolans, has at least one period of ceramics because I've seen him carrying around ugly vases and what I think are ashtrays, but every time I go past the lunch tables, he's there sitting on top of one of them. Last year he was suspended for offering to sell a gun to an undercover policeman, but I guess he was just loosely offering and didn't have an actual gun to hand over. He spent some time in juvy and then came back. I'm a little bit fascinated with him partly because he laughs all the time and partly because he's one of maybe twenty black kids that go to my school.

When you think of the bad kids, you think they're the ones who are bitter and hating school. But today I realized that they're actually happy. The narcs come by and threaten yellow slips and detention, but then the narcs just end up laughing with the kids and making up inside jokes. And then, like I said before, the principal watches out for them, and the teachers want to make a difference in their lives, so the bad kids are probably the most beloved people in the entire school. If Princeton stopped caring about grades and extracurricular activities and started admitting some of these people from the quad, it just might end up with a more likable student body.

As I was passing the cafeteria, Larome (in the middle of laughing) yelled out, "You've been a good girl, girl?"

I knew what he was talking about because I have this habit of dressing like a Catholic schoolgirl. Over the years I've built up this collection of pleated skirts until they're pretty much all I have in my closet. I must like them. I mean, that's what you've got to figure when you end up with thirty of them. Today I was wearing a yellow-and-black plaid skirt and even a tie, so I knew what he was talking about. Still, I said, "What?"

That made him laugh, obviously. Then he stopped long enough to say, "Yeah, yeah, you're good. I can tell. That skirt's pretty damn short though, girl."

In that moment I wished I could find everything as funny as he did. He must see things on some kind of higher plane, where the essence of everything ridiculous comes to him in these sharp, pleasurable spasms. I think that today I ended up on the plane where I see the same essence, except it makes me sick to my stomach.

I only had a half hour until school let out and everything Larome was doing made my head hurt. The sun was shining from under his chin, bringing every single hair out of his face. I could see hundreds of them. His hairs were so obvious that they made him look fake, but then when I changed my focus to his actual head, it was so sharply defined that everything in back of him started to look fake. That right there shows just how useless perspective is, since it can always change.

I said, "Yeah, I'm good, I guess." I gave him a weak smile because I didn't want him to think I was an uptight white girl, and then I walked quickly to the office because I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Mrs. Green, the secretary, had me sit on the hard blue couch outside of Mr. Frankel's office, and it was right under the air-conditioning vent. I was wearing one of my thin bras and when I looked down, my nipples were poking out of my shirt. I crossed my arms and thought about how Mr. Frankel would probably read my body language as a sign of difficulty. I started to make up scenarios in my head where I would be so difficult that he'd end up calling me a bitch and I'd kick over his desk. He came out of his office five minutes later, but I chickened out and uncrossed my arms.

He raised his eyebrows and asked, "Stella?" And I wanted to say, "I've shaken your hand so many times. You've handed me so many awards. Yes, my name is Stella." I almost did because the exhaustion had crept into my mind and was just about at my bottom lip.

But instead I said, "Yeah. Hi." We went into his office and both sat down. Mr. Frankel always has bags under his eyes, but today he looked like he was going to put a gun to his head at three. I sympathized. I really did. He was wearing one of those polo shirts with the pony on them, and I imagined it running off his shirt, up his nose, and into some major artery in his brain. (Brains have arteries, yeah?) It would neigh and start digging its hooves in until Mr. Frankel had become completely and peacefully catatonic.

He smiled and sighed simultaneously while picking up the papers Mrs. Green had laid out for him.

"It's Friday the thirteenth."

I nodded. "Yeah."

"Not only is it Friday the thirteenth, but you're also graduating in two weeks. Right?" He talked slow.

"Right."

"I'm getting the feeling here that this ball throwing incident is nothing more than a typical case of senioritis."

I stopped him right there and said, "I don't want to be argumentative, but there was no ball to throw."

He squinted. "In Mr. Nichols's mind there was." And what can you say to that but, "Hmm?" He took a look at my transcript.

"You're a smart girl. You're probably a little impatient with your classes, and you're all set to go to..." His eyes got wide. "Oh, Princeton. Very good. You must be very excited."

But, exactly then, hearing that I must be very excited, I was instantly hit by how unexcited I actually was. It's just like when you lie in bed at night thinking about a word and you say it over and over again out loud until it makes no sense anymore and you're not even sure if you have the right word for the idea? Or, and here's a drama class example to warm Mr. Nichols's heart, it's like the time when I was Lizzie Borden in this class play called Blood Relations and all my movements were completely choreographed, but then I got up there and wasn't even sure which way I should face. You'd think that, logically, I could figure out that the audience was one way and the scenery was another, but I looked around and there were people in the wings and people on the stage with me and people in the pit. And they all looked exactly the same. I was standing reciting someone else's words and decisions that had been preset before I even got to sixth period, and suddenly the room was a globe and there wasn't any particular direction that seemed to stand out. So it's like I've heard Princeton, Princeton, Princeton since my big envelope came in the mail, and maybe four months ago when I heard the name I thought about the gargoyles in the brochure. There was something to picture then. Princeton was an actual concept because it was the end of a very rational equation, as far as good grades plus drama class plus glowing teacher recommendations equals going there. But then I'm thinking that my brain kept repeating the idea over and over again, even when I wasn't associating that idea with the word, and the two got worn out when I wasn't even paying attention.

You need to be happy to be sad, yeah?

Anyway, now I know what it's like to surprise yourself with apathy in the afternoon when you woke up in the morning believing you cared.

I looked down at my watch and it said 2:41 and I memorized the number by thinking two times the two dots in the colon is four, times the one to the right is still four. I still had to give an answer to Mr. Frankel, so for lack of any desire to communicate, I told him, "Yeah, I'm real excited."

He blinked four times and I only know this because I was watching his eyelashes. Like repeated words stuck on his lids, the hairs also stopped making sense the longer I studied them. I wondered, Hey, why not pubic hairs stuck onto the top of his eyes instead? Curly lashes. Just another option. Four times, not five times, and definitely not three. He had lashes to keep out the dust and the dirt, but we (and by we, I mean all us human beings) could also throw in bugs and countless other dangers until so many were listed that we couldn't consider ourselves having ever made a list. If I listed everything in the world, then that would just be everything in the world, and not any sort of organized statement.

"You don't say that like you're very excited," he said.

I apologized.

Copyright © 2004 by Andrea Seigel

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 30 )
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(15)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2011

    cried so hard and stayed up all night finishing it!

    Like the Red Panda was just another suicide novel when I picked it up, but after I began it was obvious that this was the most surprising outlook upon the topic of suicide. You'd expect a person who commits suicide to be dramatically sad person who blows off school. Instead you get Stella; a smart girl whom her teachers adore and her peers ignore. She isn't picked on; actually the smart pretty girl tries to be friendly, but you can tell she doesn't want to be a part of this world. I enjoyed this good tear jerking book very much, and everything shocked me and every twist and turn thrilled me. I would suggest Like the Red Panda to anyone who is curious about the topic or enjoys tragic books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2006

    A haunting story of rationalized despair you'll never forget

    I will never forget this book, the despair of the heroine, (yes heroine) is palatable. You can feel what she feels and even come to understand what she is doing and why she is doing it, even while you hope she won't. A book that cannot be missed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2005

    honest and intriguing

    stella presents an otherwise dull landscape as an amusing and disturbing background for the last two weeks of life. she is a perceptive and honest narrator who will be easy relate to if you have grown up in SoCal suburbia, been labeled one of the 'smart kids',or just been young and indifferent. her view on the life she has led is straightforward and unflinching. siegel has created a thought provoking tale that will certainly resonate with most readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2006

    Really Makes You Think

    Stella's disillusioned two week stream of conciousness before she commits suicide resonates deeply with those in situations similar to hers. Girls driven by the pressure to succeed in high school will find some comfort in this novel, and those who enjoy a challenge will be shocked to discover the dratic turn of events the main character's life takes. Siegal creates a moving story with powerful language and an unsettlingly complex narrator. You'll be left wanting a full explanation, but that's the benefit of this novel. The author asks you to find the answers on your own, which hopefully will make you take a good, long look at your own values and goals and help you re-evaluate them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2005

    Wonderous.

    I loved this book. I can't say that I can relate to the whole suicide aspect of it, but the thoughts that went through her head, she was so real and wrote down things that I have always thought. Siegal's words flowed wonderfully. The word 'Craptastic' can some up so many highschoolers' days. I loved it and have read it more than once.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2005

    I felt like I was reading my own story

    As I read this book I often felt as if Stella was a mirror image of myself, only in the female form. I was also voted most likely to succeed in my high school and yet was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of alienation from the world around me. For me it wasn't until my freshman year at a top 10 university that the suicide attempts began. This novel epitomizes the tragedy in our society of how often the most intelligent people are left in utter disconnect philosophically from the usually joyous groudings of life. And so true to life this novel offers no grand solution to those suffering in such distress.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2005

    You're gonna hope that Red Panda shoots you

    This is one book you won't feel guilty for abandoning midway through--that is, if you've enough patience to even get that far. It is a painfully boring read that begs the question, 'should I stop now, or give it a few more pages?' WARNING: This novel has found its way to a bookstore near you. Walk on by...you'll never get those precious minutes back.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2005

    Not worth it

    I was expecting more from this book. Not only did it have a depressing and boring story line but is was badly written. I keep reading hoping for the book to turn around and make a come back but that never happened? The end was poorly exicuted and could have been done in a much more effective way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2004

    If you're depressed, skip this one

    While this novel truly seems to grasp the sense of loneliness and isolation a lot of teens feel, it leaves you with no place to go for solace. If you're depressed or buying this for someone who is, please reconsider.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2004

    Interesting

    I kept expecting someone to realize how sad she was. She seemed very tough and smart but all that she went through...it is easy to understand why she was so depressed. I just kept wishing someone would have seen the real her.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2004

    Very Real

    As an AP highschool senior living in southern california (about 30 min. from Orange County) I found the events, characters, and overall observations made by Seigel to be histerically accurate. Every detail from the cloned houses to the made-man lake in the middle of a desert to stonner AP kids was totally relate-able. Spend time around my (or any) high school campus and planned middle-class community and you'll see/meet dozens of people who could be a stand-in for any one of the characters in this great novel. I'm sure readers in any part of the country can relate to this stroy, but anyone in Southern California (esp. Santa Clarita) will find this book surprisingly funny and real.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2004

    Good Book, Disappointing ending

    I thought this book was great until I read the last few pages. The character was interesting and the book had my attention all the way to the end. I just think that the way the last chapter ends was pretty dim, and disappointing. Obviously you can guess how a book about suicide ends. I just think that the grandfather in the end ruined it for me. I just wasn't expecting it, and hated it. That's just my opinion, otherwise the book was a pretty good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2004

    Coolio!

    I liked this book, though it wasn't as good in the end. I liked the rest though. +

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2004

    WOW!

    I was amazed at how thoroughly I enjoyed this book and how quickly it absorbed me. This character is complex and is refreshingly honest, the opposite of the character stereotypes we have been flooded with in recent film and literature. I'm looking forward to the next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2004

    It was ok

    I thought this book was ok at the beginning but after that I started to drift off and couldn't wait to finish because I was losing interest.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2004

    great

    this is one of the best books that i have ever read. i really love books about suicide and this is just another one to add to my list.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2004

    great

    this is an amazing book. you already have an idea of what's going to happen but when the end finally came, i was completely surprised. i absolutely recommend it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2004

    plaid skirts

    andrea seigel has an honest way of portraying the things that her character senses. though the book is somewhat easy to read, it is enticing, even addicting. the complex emotions, memories, thoughts that run through stella's mind each moment are vividly described, forcing the reader to understand her actions and her self. some people complain that there is not enough character development; others, that there is not enough substance in the plot or too many holes; and still others, that it is too depressing to bear. what i say is that the entire story is a process through which the reader can comprehend the protagonist, so there is the character development. other characters do not need to be developed as completely because the story is not centered around them. the plot did go out in many tangents that were somewhat unrelated to the 'main storyline,' however these tangents were necessary to develop stella's character (so the tangents did serve a purpose). as for holes in the plot, again i desagree. sometimes the reader needs to be left wondering. in addition to that, i felt that the reader was generally told what the reader needed to hear to keep up with the storyline. if something wasnt said, and wasnt made painfully obvious, then the reader probably wanst meant to assume it. as for finding the book depressing, i guess some can consider it so. as for me, i wasnt really upset about the outcome. stella was just being the proactive person that we as readers had known her to be. she was not happy. she was sick of the pretending the goes on not only in drama class. so she took matters into her own hands and changed it... or changed the state of herself rather. maybe i just found that i could relate. if you can appreciate this book, then i persuade you to buy it. it really is the greatest i have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2004

    Nuanced and hilarious

    suburban teen-angst meets existentialism...good stuff.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2004

    An engaging read

    I was hooked by this high-school voice on the first page, the first sentence. Honest and often funny. An easy, enjoyable read to the end.

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