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Review – The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson

The_Screwed_up_Life_of_Charlie_the_Second

The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second
by Drew Ferguson
258 pages
Published September 1, 2008
Fiction, young adult

I read The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second  by Drew Ferguson for the Nerds Heart YA Book Tournament. I hope this review will be a lesson in how a book can be read by someone who is clearly not the target audience, yet still appreciate the good story and good writing.

The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second  is written in diary form by Charlie. I found Charlie very endearing from the moment he introduces himself in an essay he’s drafting for college:

My name is Charles James Stewart, II. Charles the Second. My friends call me Charlie. First (AKA Charles James Stewart, AKA Dad, AKA McHenry County’s next state’s attorney) calls me Chip at press conferences, but around the house, I’m usually Smart-ass. Everyone else calls me Ass Bandit or Fudge Packer. I’m seventeen years old, scarecrow gangly at all of 6’4″, and a buck-fifty dripping wet. My nose and ears are way too big, my voice cracks all the time, and I’ve never passed my driver’s test. (Six failures, but who’s counting?) As you can probably tell, I’m one of the cool kids. While some guys in my class already have hair on their chests, I just  started getting pubes. And to make me a bigger freak, all three of them are growing in straight.

My extracurricular activities include soccer, being a total music and comics freak, and jacking off like a retarded monkey. C’mon, I’m seventeen, and it’s not like I’ve gotten any action, short of the one time Bob Collins beat off in front of me after a soccer game (and then freaked and totally stopped talking to me).

Written in the opening diary entry, this sets the tone for the whole book. Charlie, more awkward than most and missing that je ne sais quoi that makes some kids cool, is doing his best to get through high school. He has a best friend, Bink, but Bink has just started dating a girl that requires a lot of attention, and Charlie has been on the outs with the girlfriend ever since he was dared to go skinny dipping in the neighbors pool…and did it…and got arrested. He tries  to be cool, but he fails miserably! It’s really very endearing. 🙂

A new kid comes to school, Rob Hunt, who’s a great soccer player, really cute, very cool…and gay. Rob and Charlie start dating, so you watch Charlie go through all the issues with falling in love at 17: Does he like me? Did he really just check me out or was I imagining things? Are we moving too fast? Will he think I’m dumb because I’m a virgin? Will it hurt the first time?

To add to all the angst, Charlie’s parents are going through a rough time in their marriage, and despite Charlie’s tough exterior, he really wants his parents to stay together. He worries about what will happen to him if they divorce, and even though he summarily dismisses his father on a regular basis, when it comes down to it, he just wants his father there. 

Okay, so here’s the thing: I liked the writing, liked the character development, liked how it made me remember how horrible high school was, liked how realistic Charlie was for a teenager, and liked the issues brought up in the book. But there’s references to Charlie’s dick on every. single. page. And I was like, “I would NOT want my kid reading something so graphic!” And I was wondering why I was reading something that had a target audience that was CLEARLY NOT ME.

One of the questions I asked myself is, “Why is there so much talk of Charlie’s penis??!! Is this necessary  to the story?” I decided later that I didn’t think the author could be true to Charlie without putting all the sex in the story. What do teenage boys think about most? Their dicks! That’s just the way things are! And this is his diary, so why wouldn’t  he talk honestly and openly about where/how/and with whom he gets off?

I was almost through with The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second  when I went to see David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife. We got to talking and I told him about The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second  and he really changed the way I viewed the book. He pointed out that when he was growing up, he devoured anything about gay men, because he wanted to know what was going on. Teenagers are naturally curious and want to know there’s others in the world who feel the same way they do. It’s particularly important to have books like this for kids wondering if they’re gay, because they can read the book and see if they identify with the character.

David Ebershoff also pointed out that kids often read well above their age level. He got me to admit that I was reading Harlequin books at least at age 15, and those certainly have some steamy scenes! Sometimes we forget what it’s like to be a teenager, and never thinking about sex is not what being a teenager’s about.

A few weeks later I was having lunch with a friend of mine, Arthur, who is 78(?), and I asked him what it was like for him to be a gay teenager in the 1940s, and he said he felt like he was the only person in the world who felt the way he did. When Arthur said that, I really realized how lonely that must feel. It was then that I realized a book like this could be more important than I thought.

I had one minor quibble with the book, and if anyone’s read the book, let me know and we can discuss it. It’s not big enough to mention here, though.

If someone had told me about this book, I guarantee you I wouldn’t have read it. But what a great book I would have missed out on! It just goes to show that a book’s target audience isn’t the only audience who can appreciate and enjoy a book.

Rating: 90 out of 100

Drew Ferugson’s website (there’s a great Q&A with the author)

Buy the book: Powell’s | Amazon

Other reviews:

Becky’s Book Reviews

Bookshelves of Doom

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

| Tags: , , , , , , 19 comments »

19 Responses to “Review – The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson”

  1. Kathy

    The book sounds like it was a great conversation starter for you! The passages you quoted made me laugh and it sounds like a book that makes you think, so it can’t be all bad.

    [Reply]

  2. Drew

    I’d be happy to address the quibble. I certainly have a few of my own. 🙂

    Glad you liked the book.

    [Reply]

  3. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    I’m glad you were able to appreciate the book and its importance even if the book wasn’t for you. 😉

    [Reply]

  4. lisamm

    It’s weird.. I’m sort of fascinated and horrified all at the same time.

    [Reply]

  5. Nan

    I love all the conversations this book sparked for you! Great review!

    [Reply]

  6. Beth Kephart

    Your note drew me to you.
    Your writing drew me in.

    (You too are endearing.)

    Thank you…… 🙂

    b

    [Reply]

  7. zibilee

    Not sure if this a book I would give to my kids, but I think I would love to check it out. Great and thoughtful review, and that’s one more book to add to my wish list!!

    [Reply]

  8. nikki

    Sounds like a great book to me! I’m in the middle of Rainbow Boys right now, and it’s not that great. I need another gay teenage boy book to make up for it. Sounds like I found the right one!

    Oh, and teenage boys not only spend time thinking about their dicks, they tend to spend most of their time thinking WITH their dicks. That’s a fact.

    [Reply]

  9. Jeane

    I think I would feel a bit uncomfy reading a book that talked about his obsession w/his privates so often, but I think it’s probably very realistic, too! And do people really get arrested for skinny dipping??

    [Reply]

  10. Florinda

    Gay AND dorky? Poor kid. As if adolescence wasn’t tough enough already.

    I liked the excerpt you quoted, but I’m also not the target audience for this. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to my 14-year-old, either; she’s already quite aware that teenage boys mostly think about – and with – their dicks.

    Thanks for sharing how David Ebershoff helped you get a handle on this book. I met him at a signing at Vroman’s in Pasadena last night, but didn’t get the chance to discuss books in depth with him like you did :-).

    [Reply]

  11. Kristi

    I’m so NOT the target audience for this book either. But after this review I’m SO going to read it anyway ;o). I love that there are such interesting, smart, funny YA books out there today. Where were they when I WAS the target audience?? Or were they there and I was just reading my Harlequins (I started reading romances at about age 12 – haven’t stopped yet ;o))? Great review! My TBR list is growing ever longer due to the Nerds Heart YA Book Tournament.

    [Reply]

  12. Lenore

    I read a John Updike novel where it was a old, straight guy who talked about his penis on. every. page. I really liked the book otherwise, but I too was like, does he REALLY have to mention it THAT often?!

    [Reply]

  13. Heather

    I hadn’t heard of this one before, but your review REALLY made me want to pick it up. I don’t read enough glbtq lit so this would be a good one for me too. Thanks so much, Trish!

    [Reply]

  14. Natasha @ Maw Books

    Glad I wasn’t chosen to read this book for the tourney. It reminds me of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

    [Reply]

  15. Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books

    Isn’t it great that, although reading is a solitary pursuit, our discussions with other people (online and IRL) can really add to our understanding of (and appreciation for), a book!? Like you, I wouldn’t have picked this up on my own, but the insights you got from your conversations during/after reading it are priceless.

    [Reply]

  16. Jodie

    I love the realisations that this book and the conversations you ahd with people about it brought you. I think it’s really important for all adults reading and reviewing YA to remember that these books were originally written for teens, even though we may all enjoy them as well. When I was a teenager I wanted to read some illicit books (not porn, more things that delat with sexuality) and I was able to because my parents were fairly permissive when it came to reading, but also because adults just weren’t as aware of what sort of issues were discussed in YA. Now we see parents forbidding their kids from reading certain types of books that aren’t harmful, but that do deal with older subjects and I think that’s such a shame. If I had to choose one secret my kids had from me I’d rather it was reading books that featured some swear words than drugs or drinking. Everyone has to explore a little at that age and books really are one of the safest ways for teens to do so.

    Ok off soapbox and back to Retweet your decision!

    [Reply]

  17. HAPPY HYPERLINK FUN TIMES: Nerds Heart YA Isn’t Dead, I’m Just a Terrible Person « YA Fabulous » keeping it awesome since 2007

    […] and Vasilly judged The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second and Debbie Harry Sings In French. Trish shares their decision […]

  18. Nerds Heart YA! « A High and Hidden Place

    […] and Vasilly judged The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second and Debbie Harry Sings In French. Trish shares their decision […]

  19. Heather

    okay trish I just read this one – my review will be posted tomorrow – and I want to know what your quibble is! so email me and we’ll talk. 🙂

    [Reply]

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