The Absolute Value of -1

Image of The Absolute Value of -1
Release Date: 
January 18, 2010
Carolrhoda Books
Reviewed by: 

In a gritty and yet honest portrayal of teenage life, the truth is not always what we might wish for or want to acknowledge. In Steve Brezenoff’s The Absolute Value of –1 it turns out to also be all the things we might want to deny or hide as well.

In the lives of three teenagers we find out adolescence is not always what it’s cracked up to be, and those carefree days of high school never quite live up to one’s expectations. Nor are they necessarily what we each remember.

Simon, Lily, and Noah are your truly typical and somewhat average teens. Not the scrubbed clean, pink, and bubbly type so often portrayed in young adult fiction, but the real-life damaged youths so often ignored. Drugs, self esteem, sex, and abuse all play significant roles in the lives of many teens, and Brezenoff does not shrink from the role of a writer exploring reality within this work. He probes what hurts the most, digging the deepest into the lives of teenagers often swept to the side either by neglectful parents, the school system, or society itself.

The same events and time period are told from the viewpoint of each of the three “friends,” creating a picture of how different individuals can view the same conversation, confrontation, or general body language of another person. This Rashomon-like manner of storytelling forms a fascinating look at the psychology and personality of each individual, making the reader see each character as a person shaped by not only who they are but also by their circumstances and environment. Pushing the limits of traditional young adult fiction, Brezenoff is not afraid to get his hands dirty delving into the world of teen drug addiction, sex, and parental abuse.

The Absolute Value of –1 is not feel-good young adult fiction, but its honesty is refreshing. Many a teen will connect to this book in ways they might not to other books written for their generation. Many a parent may be put off by the reality represented within its pages, but Brezenoff’s book is meant for those in the older range of teen readers.

All in all, it is refreshingly honest, bravely written, and hard to put down.