A superb, redemptive young-adult novel about a defiant juvenile delinquent.
Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2013 by MEGHAN COX GURDON
Think of all the elements you might not particularly want to see in a book for your teenager: a main character who is a defiant juvenile delinquent, lots of dope smoking and vodka drinking, the mocking of nuns and the blaspheming of God, and an unendingly creative stream of foul, smutty language. Now imagine these insalubrious components delivered in writing so caffeinated and surprising that it seems to jump off the page and a redemptive story-ending that is both heart-stabbing and beautiful.
If you’ve followed the thought experiment all the way through, the chances are that you have conjured something close to Scott Blagden’s tumultuous debut novel for older teenagers, “Dear Life, You Suck.” The narrator is 17-year-old Cricket Cherpin, the oldest kid in a Maine orphanage run by Catholic nuns, who seems to be everyone’s nightmare of the angry young man. Outwardly he is scarred, sarcastic and callous—an inveterate brawler. Inwardly he is an altogether more tender, subtle and idiosyncratic person, whose thoughts flash between his appalling past, his turbulent present and a future with no good options.
The disjunction makes Cricket an intensely appealing character—cynical and coarse but also filled with inchoate longings that bespeak a deep and even aesthetic sensitivity. At one point, he is getting high with his lowlife drug-dealing friend Grub, on a cliff that overlooks the vast, sun-dappled Atlantic. Cricket wants to explain how the ocean’s beauty makes him feel “without sounding like a total dweeb,” but he can’t. “What I want to tell [Grub] is that me and Art have a problem. The way me and God have a problem. I mean, this scene is so out of this world, so inhuman and infinite, so boundless, so worthy and eternal. And human life is so not. Yet I can’t deny a connection. An intermingling. A gravity. A pull. I mean, it sucks at my soul.”
Other forces are pulling at Cricket as well, not least the lovely Wynona Bidaban (who Cricket says has “been global warming my southern hemisphere ever since she moved here”) but also the looming threat of aging-out of the orphanage. Dramatically profane and comically lewd, the story of Cricket’s emotional deliverance makes for one of the most wrenching and engaging young-adult books to come along in ages.
Project MUSE. Produced by The Johns Hopkins University Press in collaboration with The Milton S. Eisenhower Library
Blagden, Scott Dear Life, You Suck Harcourt, 2013 [320p]
ISBN 978-0-547-90431-3 $16.99
Reviewed from Galleys R Gr. 9-12
Cricket is recovering, though most would say badly or perhaps not at all, from a traumatic childhood that has left him hostile and suspicious toward adults and God. Since he was nine, he has been living in a Catholic boys’ home in northern Maine, and now, with eight months to go before his eighteenth birthday, he has important life decisions to make. That’s if he can keep out of trouble, though; while he’s able to walk away from anyone trying to bully or harass him personally, he can’t allow the bullies to push the younger orphans around. After putting a particularly nasty thug in the hospital, he is surprised to win the affections of the girl of his dreams, who sees through his gruff exterior to his heart, which, if not permanently broken, is severely cracked. Cricket conveys his damage through a wildly inventive voice; his often profound philosophies and speculations about life, parents, art, sex, and God are couched in energetic (and sometimes shockingly profane) imagery that turn ordinary language into the verbal equivalent of a Chihuly glass sculpture – colorful, twisted, brittle, and arresting. Readers will need a high tolerance for crudeness but will have no problem seeing the function behind the form of Cricket’s edgy diction. Moreover, his indictment of failed adults, as well as his ultimate appreciation of those who are trying to get it right, will certainly resonate with fans of Chris Crutcher and Frank Portman.
From: Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Volume 66, Number 8, April 2013
p. 370 | 10.1353/bcc.2013.0265
From the April issue of School Library Journal (starred review)
From their website – “School Library Journal (SLJ) serves librarians who work with students in schools and public libraries, reaching an audience of more than 100,000. The world’s largest and most authoritative reviewer of children’s and young adult content—principally books, but also including audio, video, and the Web—the magazine and its Web site provide 38,000 subscribers with information indispensable in making purchasing decisions.”
In present-day Maine, Cricket Cherpin is the oldest resident at the Naskeag Home for Boys. Since he arrived at age 10 with a scar in the shape of an “X” marring one side of his face, he has been both trouble to the nuns who raise him and a godsend to the Little Ones who look up to him. Taught to box by the caretaker of the property, Cricket protects the younger kids from bullies, one school-yard fight at a time. But it comes at a cost. He is one fight away from expulsion and eight months away from his 18th birthday. His request to remain a boarder at the home is denied, and Cricket must decide where he will go when the nuns can no longer protect him. The way he sees it, he has three options: go from collecting fees for a drug dealer to dealing himself, take Caretaker’s advice and box for real, or choose the easy way out and end his life. Throughout this first novel, Cricket evolves from an angry young man into the role model the younger boys believe him to be. His internal dialogue evolves as well. The beginning pages are wrought with sarcasm and teen speak that will likely be as difficult for some teen readers to decipher as it is for adults. However, as the character changes, so does the writing. This is a truly original work, and fans of Sherman Alexie may find a new favorite in Blagden.–Jennifer Furuyama, Pendleton
From Booklist –
From their website – “Booklist is a book-review magazine that has been published by the American Library Association for more than 100 years, and is widely viewed as offering the most reliable reviews to help libraries decide what to buy and to help library patrons and students decide what to read, view, or listen to. It comprises two print magazines, an extensive website and database, e-newsletters, webinars, and other resources that support librarians in collection development and readers’ advisory.”
Cricket Cherpin, 17, is ready to hurt someone. Again. As the oldest boy residing at the Naskeag Home for Boys, he is fiercely protective of the others, the “Little Ones.” Pick on one of the Little Ones and be prepared for a pounding from Cricket. Mother Mary, a formidable nun who has cared for Cricket since his arrival, eight years earlier, struggles to show Cricket that violence is not the answer. The true source of Cricket’s grief and rage is his personal horror story, which left him parentless and with a terrible scar on his face. As Cricket himself relates, “I stare until reality morphs into memory, memory into fear, fear into pain, pain into rage, and rage into energy.”Cricket’s narration is filled with razor-sharp wit and SAT vocabulary words that some readers will find exhilarating, while others may struggle to interpret them. But, through Cricket, Blagden offers a fine masculine viewpoint that expresses the intensity of grief. — Diane Colson
“Dear Cricket, you rock!”—Tim Wynne-Jones, author of Blink & Caution
“A profane, profound debut. . . . One of the most wrenching and engaging young- adult books to come along in ages.”—The Wall Street Journal
“This is a truly original work, and fans of Sherman Alexie may find a new favorite in Blagden.”—School Library Journal, STARRED review
As every teenager knows, life sometimes just plain sucks.
The irreverent, smart aleck narrator of Dear Life, You Suck can attest to this. At seventeen, Cricket Cherpin is the oldest ward in a boys’ home in Maine, and his future prospects seem to be limited to drug dealing, fighting, or calling it quits altogether; any way you look at it, he’s alone. But when his life is on the line, Cricket’s surprised to find there are more than a few people—and one very pretty girl—who are in his corner.
This powerful, fast-paced novel from debut author Scott Blagden is all about the voice. Angry, cynical, self-deprecating and utterly believable, Cricket’s words resonate long after his story ends. Readers might want to embrace him, or they might want to shake him, but they will certainly never forget him. Karen Coats of Johns Hopkins University’s Project MUSE says: “Cricket conveys his damage through a wildly inventive voice; his often profound philosophies and speculations about life, parents, art, sex, and God are couched in energetic (and sometimes shockingly profane) imagery that turn ordinary language into the verbal equivalent of a Chihuly glass sculpture – colorful, twisted, brittle, and arresting.”
“I was interested in exploring how Cricket’s childhood traumas made him into the person he is,” says Blagden, “and how he confronts his current self and his painful past with respect to decisions he needs to make about his life when he turns eighteen. Oh, and I feel obligated to mention that Dear Life, You Suck contains profanity, fighting, religious irreverence, politically incorrect humor, drinking, and drugs. So if you have a problem with the real shit real teenagers do, you probably won’t like it.”
But it’s clear from the stellar early reviews and word-of-mouth buzz that readers do like it. Armed with endorsements from respected YA authors like Deb Caletti, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ron Koertge and Francisco X. Stork, Dear Life, You Suck’s Cricket Cherpin is about to make his mark.
Scott Blagden grew up in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and now makes his home in Wareham, where he enjoys being a dad to his teenage twins. In addition to writing, he has been self-employed in real estate for thirty years. Dear Life, You Suck is his first novel. http://www.scottblagden.com
Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden
Hardcover: 978-0-547-90431-3 / e-Book: 978-0-547-90433-7 / March 2013 / $16.99 / Ages 14 and up
Jennifer Groves, Publicity Manager, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jennifer.Groves@hmhco.com
VISIT http://scottblagden.com/ FOR MORE INFORMATION AND REVIEWS ON “Dear Life, You Suck”