In which Ashley muses on cosmic karma, bullying, and befriending the moody protagonist of Scott Blagden’s award-winning debut novel.
A new year has begun, and I’m still going strong on my reading resolutions (Day Five and counting!), but there was one title from the end of last year that has kept me company into 2015: Scott Blagden’s Dear Life, You Suck, which has been recognized as one of the top YA books of 2014 by the Young Adult Library Services Association.
Even without the YALSA recommendation, I would have read it for the title alone. Dear Life, You Suck. It’s just so very YA, in the best of ways. Blunt. Silly. Somber. Making Life itself the object of your raging sadness. Maybe I like it simply because it reflects my speech patterns. I routinely address Life and Karma and other such concepts in moments of great consternation, as in: Karma! I did a nice thing, and this is how you repay me?! What did I do to deserve this!? Karma never answers me, though. These Things never deign to answer.
What I’m getting at is that I think the main character of Dear Life, You Suck, Cricket Cherpin—yes, Cricket—and I could be good friends, if he’d let me be his friend, which he probably wouldn’t. You see, Cricket’s parents (and foster parents) were abusive drug addicts, so for the past eight years, he’s lived at an all-boy’s orphanage, raised by a bunch of nuns in an old converted jailhouse. At 17, Cricket’s the oldest and he tries to protect the little kids from bullies, but he’s always the one that gets in trouble for fighting. He has no friends, and hides his pain behind cynical jokes and creative curses. In other words, his life sucks.
Blagden’s colorful language* and quirky characters are what makes this misunderstood bad boy story stand out from the crowd. Cricket’s evolution from problem child to role model and his spiritual and physical maturity can be tracked by the changes in Blagden’s prose. There were times I cried, times I remembered the misunderstood peers at my high school or the troubled elementary schoolers I tried to help as a summer camp counselor but couldn’t. Like all great YA, though, Dear Life, You Suck is a reminder that even the most embittered and disappointed teens have the power to make a better future for themselves and others.*WARNING: Cricket is the embodiment of stereotypical masculinity, and as such makes a lot of homophobic slurs. He also believes calling someone “girly” or more offensive words relating to women is a grave insult to a person’s worth. It’s understandable that Cricket holds these views—he’s spent the last eight years living with 40-something other boys, he hates his biological and foster mothers much more than any father figure, and one of the few characters who has always believed in him is an old man who teaches him how to box. But, because they’re repeated so frequently, and subverted only subtly (if at all), the slanders grated on me. That said, I don’t feel the whole story should be looked over because of these elements.
Ashley is an Editorial Curation Assistant at Scribd. She attended the Columbia Publishing Course and previously worked at Byliner as an Associate Editor. She’s made it her mission to celebrate the best in young adult fiction with lovingly made collections like Logged In and Prom Night.