Dear Life, You Suck - Scott Blagden image
Do you ever find yourself reading a book and thinking that you would probably have enjoyed it a lot more if you hadn't already read something that does the same thing but much better? That's how I felt for the majority of [b:Dear Life, You Suck|15814479|Dear Life, You Suck|Scott Blagden||21540915]. It's a teen "problem novel" that attempts to be funny whilst at the same time delivering an important tale about the life of someone in an unfortunate situation. While I enjoyed it for the most part, I still find myself wanting to point people towards [b:Tales of the Madman Underground|4906766|Tales of the Madman Underground|John Barnes||4972289] instead. And, though the stories are different, they also have very much in common. So much so that reading one almost renders it unnecessary to read the other - and if you're only going to read one, you can guess which my vote goes to.

Cricket, at seventeen, is the oldest ward in his Catholic boys' home in Maine. He is troubled, foulmouthed, horny, occasionally violent when stupid people make it necessary, and he views life with a combination of humour and cynicism. For me, he is almost exactly like Karl Shoemaker from [b:Tales of the Madman Underground|4906766|Tales of the Madman Underground|John Barnes||4972289]. Except, on some level, I don't think he was handled quite as well. Karl was such a vibrant, not-exactly-ordinary character and his constant cursing and sexual thoughts didn't feel out of place, despite their frequency. Cricket, on the other hand, occasionally seemed more like a caricature of a troubled teenage boy written by someone much older. His swearing and fighting was used as a tool to make him seem more interesting, where Karl's was a by-product of an already interesting character.

I had a few separate issues with the language anyway, but not the cursing. My problem was with the forced slang that felt out of place most of the time and the constant switching between the Cricket who speaks like this: “The shrinkadinks think I have a screw loose. Ain’t playing with a full deck. Whacked-out wiring. Missing marbles” with made up words and fragmented sentences, and the one who contemplates life, religion and the universe like he is the wisest old monkey on the planet. It's a shame really because I enjoyed the discussions on religion and the comparisons between Cricket's parent situation and the relationship between Jesus and God - he ponders what kind of father could abandon his son when he needs him most. Very interesting, but completely at odds with other aspects of his character.

However, the main thing which I believe sets the two books I mentioned apart is the secondary characters. [b:Tales of the Madman Underground|4906766|Tales of the Madman Underground|John Barnes||4972289] had many colourful characters that interacted with the protagonist and made the story so much more interesting and funny. In [b:Dear Life, You Suck|15814479|Dear Life, You Suck|Scott Blagden||21540915], the only noteworthy character, in my opinion, is Cricket. Many others were introduced but not sufficiently explored, even in the case of Wynona - a waste of potential, if you ask me. I also think the lack of secondary character development highlighted Cricket's misogyny and the way he sees every female in the novel as a walking set of breasts and vagina. While I appreciate that Cricket has reasons for his behaviour and this isn't supposed to be a nice story about a good guy, I think if you're going to use misogyny in this way, then you really should develop said female characters beyond their anatomy. Maybe I would have felt differently about this if I'd found Cricket's romance with Wynona more satisfying.

To end on a positive, I am glad that there are still people catering for teen boys who read. And I do believe this book will find a place in the hearts of the right readers but, unfortunately, I am not one of them.