Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What's Not to Like? Dear Life, You Suck by Michael Blagdon

Dear Life,

See you on the flipside.


With a name like Cricket Cherpin, with a mother who murdered his little brother in the bathtub, and a drug dealer dad,  Cricket has a few strikes against him.  Add to that his frequent suspensions for fighting at school and what could safely be called an irreverent attitude for all institutions, including the Catholic orphanage where he's lived for eight years, and you can see why most of the adults in Cricket's life know that he means trouble.

But they do care about Cricket. At the children's home (hereinafter entitled The Prison), Mother Mary Mammoth keeps trying to convince him of the errors of his ways, and at school the principal (a.k.a. La-Di-Da LaChance) and his English teacher, (alias Foxy Moxie) keep trying to keep him at school long enough to graduate. When Moxie ("sexy in a hippie fruitcake way") assigns the class to write a letter of complaint to anybody, Cricket decides to go big and take it to the top, so he addresses his beef to life itself, hoping that the hint at suicide will send his teacher into hyperdrive mode.  Instead, she red-pencils in some peculiarly pedagogical remarks:
Wonderful choice of recipient!!!  Excellent start, but needs more detail. 
What in particular sucks? 
What do you imagine awaits you on the flipside? 
Regards, M. Lord

Cricket has his work cut out for him with Moxie's request for specificity. By his own code, Cricket is ethically in the clear: he only fights to defend the "little ones" from the orphanage and anyone else who becomes the victim of a bully, particularly senior letterman Buster Pitswaller, whose greens Cricket is finally forced to clean  on school grounds. Suspended for a week from school and grounded to Prison chores, Cricket has to confine his drinking and collecting drug bills for local dope dealer Grub to the wee hours of the night when he can sneak out. His penance labors during the day under the benevolent watch of Caretaker, who also tutors him in self-defense skills, give him plenty of time to think about his future. At first it seems he has only three post-Prison options:

1. Boxer (Caretaker provides training and booking)
2. Drug Dealer (Grub needs a full-time associate)
3. The Flipside (the local cliff is available for jumping)

In Cricket's mind the choices are equally unpleasant, but despite his negative view of himself and everything else, he's got some good luck in his corner--his English teacher Moxie, who thinks he's a gifted writer, Cheesecake LaChance who keeps giving him yet another chance, Mother Mary, who refuses to give up on him despite it all, the "Little Ones" who love his fanciful stories and look to him for protection from the rest of the world, and even the lovely Wynona, Buster's ex-girlfriend who seems to find him handsome and intelligent. Slowly, despite all the junk of his life, Cricket's balance begins to tip toward other options.

In his Dear Life, You Suck (Harcourt, 2013) Scott Blagden has in Cricket Cherpin a character who is profane, cynical, nihilistic, and somehow totally likable, one who has every reason to see the world as a cruel, self-mocking place, no matter where he turns. And yet, Cricket can't seem to come to the point of finding the flipside on the downside of that cliff.
I believe in something. I'm just not sure what. I think the way life started, that Big Bang thing, is a clue. Like maybe God's the explosion, and we're the particles, and the purpose of it all is to get back together.

Like his fictional predecessor, Holden Caulfield, young adult readers will be pulling for Cricket Cherpin to get his own particles together, to emerge from his seventeenth year "with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact."

Kirkus Reviews says, "Dear story, you rock."

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