As in Cohn's books starring Cyd Charisse, a wild child with a complicated past is at the center of this coming-of-age story. It's easy to fall for lively Very: she plans flash mobs using a social network she programmed at college, makes play-lists for every situation (even to apologize to her roommate after hooking up with a mutual friend), and has an intense fantasy life with El Virus, a mysterious stranger she met on the Internet. However, the author's mix of fun, far-out characters sits uncomfortably with somber subject matter, including Very's bad first sexual experience at age 12 and the death of her mother. These shifts in tone make it hard to know how seriously to take the book's central problem, when perpetually plugged-in Very is sent to a computer-addiction recovery center. There she eventually realizes “I prefer the virtual world because the real one is hard, and cruel, and scary.” Her story never feels entirely cohesive, but readers will have fun watching Very in action. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Meet Very (short for Veronica) LeFreak (from the disco-era song of the same name—"C'est Chic!"), a modern party girl with eclectic musical tastes. She is 100 percent plugged in to her electronic life as a freshman at Columbia University and not quite so attached to mundane concerns like going to class and managing her finances. Famous on campus for her creation of "The Grid," an online dorm social-networking site, and for organizing off-kilter flash-mob events and killer parties, Very skids from coasting to possible expulsion and scholarship loss. Brian, a best bud, until she sleeps with him; Jennifer, the roommate Very insists on calling Lavinia; and an irate RA stage an intervention at the behest of the dean. Very needs to go cold turkey and give up her total reliance on electronics. No iPod, no iPhone, no laptop. And that means no searching for her missing online crush. After things turn even uglier, the second half of Very's story takes place at a 28-day ESCAPE (Emergency Services for Computer-Addicted Persons) program at a former fat farm in Vermont. There, Very will have to learn to sink or swim after her forced break from technology. With the quiet blaring, she might have the time to figure out a future, or she just might go so crazy that she falls off the wagon into an untenable virtual existence with emoticons in place of relationships. Very's unique take on the world brings plenty of humor and a vicarious ride through racy modern college life.—Suzanne Gordon, Peachtree Ridge High School, Suwanee, GA
There's a playlist for every moment of college freshman Very LeFreak's life. There's also an IM, a meme, a text message and a social network. Very's always focused on her next great party or her online relationship with the man who calls himself El Virus, but she's failing most of her classes at Columbia University. Her three closest friends stage an intervention just before the end of the school year, sending Very to a tech-detox center in the Vermont woods. With the help of a therapist, Very acknowledges that her self-destructive behaviors are used as a cover for emotional wounds that never healed. She gets a grip on losing her mother, her friends and her virginity and comes to realize that her true love has been right in front of her all along. The obvious, sometimes preachy themes of addiction and information-overload, plus Cohn's signature hipper-than-thou characters, make for a book that is heavy on the message. Readers who have fallen for the hugely likable Very, with her fluid sexuality and snappy dialogue, will feel deflated by the end. (Fiction. YA)
VOYA - Emily Petit
The protagonist of Very LeFreak is a mere shadow of a character. Particularly confusing is her elaborate narrative in the therapist's office on exactly why she faces the inner struggles that she does. Very knows exactly where her pain is coming from and states it as if she were in a geography lesson. This book might have thrived on dialogue or first-person narration, but reading Very's story is like watching a stranger on the streetsomething to be seen only from the outside. Reviewer: Emily Petit, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Christina Fairman
Very (short for Veronica) LeFreak (borrowed from a disco hit) is a train wreck waiting to happen. Only nineteen, she is running from an uprooted childhood of drugs, rape, an unknown father, and the early death of her mother. Now a student at Columbia University, Very is unable to maintain meaningful relationships. Her refuge is technologyiPods, e-mail, cell phones, the Internet, and a mysterious stranger known only as "El Virus" are her surrogate family. Reality is little more to Very than adrenaline-filled episodes of parties, sex, and fantasy games at the expense of others. Peppered with wry humor and pop culture references, this book is a sad tale of a damaged young adult who seeks her identity. This theme comes to the fore during the second half of the book, when Very ends up in front of a therapist at a rehab clinic for technology addicts. Unfortunately that section of the story contains an odd mixture of meaningful moments (as when Very begins to understand what causes her to run from people) and silly premises (some who could not handle rehab, for example, apparently chewed at electrical outlets to get "re-electrified"). Ultimately, it is a breezy story that reads more like a soap opera or an average teen movie than a meaningful novel. One final note: this book contains more explicit sexual content and language than normally found in a book for teens. Reviewer: Christina Fairman
Children's Literature - Sara Rofofsky Marcus
Romance, Internet, homesickness, computer-addiction, college life, adjustment, and more are all featured in this work. Following Veronica (a.k.a "Very") through her adjustment to college life and freedom, the reader encounters love, yearning to belong, stretching the boundaries, addiction to the Internet and all things technological and addiction to boys and sexual relationships. A beginning that adult readers may consider to be slightly slow will nonetheless draw young adults into the world of an orphaned college freshman on scholarship. Many will come to relate to parts of Very's life, matching both male and female readers' needs to identify with a character. This book will be of great use to any reader who is facing computer addiction or feels in danger of it. It is also a great resource for assisting students preparing to go away to college to open discussions about dangers and issues that one will face when approaching independence. Reviewer: Sara Rofofsky Marcus
Read an Excerpt
Happy Birthday to You, Very LeFreak
It wasn’t the fact that Starbucks did not—would not—serve Guinness with a raw egg followed by an espresso chaser that was ruining Very’s hangover. Nor was Very concerned that she had stumbled into her campus Starbucks on the morning after an overnight “study session” with the beautiful engineering major from Ghana whose name eluded her, although Very knew there were many hard consonants involved. Hey, she wasn’t even bothered that yesterday she’d been fired from her work-study “security” job checking student IDs—a feat that, contrary to her university career services advisor, was not, like, impossible to pull off—yet Very probably could be counted on later today to blow the remaining credit on her maxed-out card for primary wants like new headphones rather than for secondary needs such as food and tuition.
The fact was, Very wasn’t even technically hungover, unless a sugar coma from late-night Cap’n Crunch consumption, along with several rounds of Red Bull, qualified. It was the excessive inhale of birthday cake and cereal that had done Very in. Like the mild, fully clothed spooning session—rather, study session—with Ghana that had closed out the birthday party her dorm had thrown her, the sugar infusion had felt so comforting in the moment. It was the after that felt so empty, the Red Bulls ’n’ Cap’n fallout headache, the uncomfortable wake-up with Ghana, two strangers with stale morning breath gazing into one another’s eyes, each silently begging the other: Yo, let’s pretend this never happened?
Ghana had a girlfriend who was away for a semester abroad, and Very had no intention of getting in the way there. Her random act of intimacy hadn’t been quite as dangerous, she assured herself. It wasn’t like she’d cheated on either her real or her imagined boyfriend with Ghana. Bryan had been her best guy friend before becoming her real boyfriend, but, once their relationship had advanced to that level—when Very and Bryan were two of the only holdouts in their dorm not to go away for Spring Break—it had lasted only a day before she’d been forced to dump him. Bryan was just too good to be true: his own fault. El Virus, Very’s imagined boyfriend, he of the passionate e-mails and IMs and text messages, he who taunted her every thought and feeling by existing in the electronic ether yet who refused to appear in live, physical form before her, had suddenly dropped out of the ether; she hadn’t heard from him since what felt like an eternity (but technically, according to his last text message, since the week prior to Spring Break). The problem with an imaginary boyfriend was, if he chose not to answer her electronic missives, Very had no idea where else to find him. She had no way of knowing whether the “facts” he’d given her about himself were, in fact, true. Maybe El Virus was an engineering student at MIT in Boston; maybe he was a CIA spy on a secret mission to ferret out Al Qaeda moles stashed away on whaling ships off the coast of Nova Scotia; maybe he was an insurance appraiser in Des Moines with a wife, two kids, and a kitten afflicted with cerebral palsy and that was why he could never sacrifice his home for his happiness to leave the family for Very; or maybe he was a bored and restless hacker up in Scarsdale, possibly within breathing distance of her. God, what if El Virus turned out to be some punk thirteen-year-old with a hard-on?
“Guinness with a raw egg?” the Starbucks counter person repeated back to Very. “I don’t understand.”
Very didn’t understand, either. The concoction promised to be horrific, but her mother had sworn by this hangover remedy, and while Very had no intention of, like Cat, losing her life to chemical effects, she had to believe that her mother would most reliably have known the best chemistry for curing the after-coma.
“Just please may I have a latte.” Very sighed. “Triple shot. Whole milk.” What could ruin her kind-of hangover, she realized as she pulled her wallet from her jeans pocket, was that . . . fuck, she had no cash, and her credit card and Starbucks birthday gift cards were tucked away in her dorm room.
“Broke again?” a familiar voice from behind her in line piped in.
Very turned around. Lavinia. Very had never been so happy to see her roommate’s disapproving gaze.
“Got a fiver you can loan me, Lavinia?” Very asked Lavinia.
“Jennifer,” Lavinia said. “My name is Jennifer. Here, borrow five dollars. Again. Happy birthday to you, Very LeFreak.”
That was it! Today’s primary playlist, Very decided, would be called, simply, “Happy Birthday to You, Very LeFreak.” Very’s top personal goal, beyond mythic goals like eating more protein and vegetables or volunteering to teach mobile-electronic-communication skills to the elderly, was to make a music mix to commemorate each and every mood that should strike her. To seek spiritual enlightenment and physical well-being in life was challenging enough, but to exist within one’s soul without proper musical inspiration for each day’s quest was just plain pathetic, an existence not worth living. While some chose to write in journals or blogs to record the loves, losses, obsessions, and miscellaneous musings of their daily lives, Very chose to remember hers via music mixes, her form of daily diary.
When she died, the future biographer(s) of her Very Unextraordinary Life would only have to unarchive and research her playlists to unearth the everyday secrets of her heart and mind. Very decided this year’s commemorative b-day list would include “The Ballad of Cap’n’ Crunch” by Pirates R Us, covers of “Happy Birthday” by Loretta Lynn, New Kids on the Block, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, plus an assortment of moody boy-trouble songs TBD some Irish-pub drinking songs, and conclude with Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” (obviously).
From the Hardcover edition.