Book Review #17: The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second

The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

An awesome friend of mine recommended this to me God knows how many years ago, and I’ve just gotten around to picking it up. The gist of what I knew about this story going in was that the main character is gay, the setting is practically my hometown, and it’s incredibly racy.

On the one hand, this is only a surface description of the book. On the other, these are the three things I focused on the most.

“The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second” has a pretty self-explanatory title. Charlie is the eighteen year old protagonist, about to graduate from Crystal Lake South High School (yes, all my local friends, you heard me correctly) who’s trying to make sense of his life in the midst of applying for college, dealing with family drama, and falling in love for the first time.

The first half of the story made me laugh out loud several different times. One of the strengths of Ferguson’s novel was the authentic–and often crude–voice of the male narrator. All of the events are told through Charlie’s diary entries and the college essay he keeps taking stabs at, which gives him the excuse to pepper his narration with profanity and sexual references. No matter how funny or gross parts of it were, Charlie’s story felt real.

Hearing all the local references was one of the coolest parts of the book for me. The mentions of the Village Squire and Julie Ann’s, the Cottage, and Cary-Grove only beating up on South’s football team by a certain margin of points that year were what made the story. Then again, even if you have no familiarity with the area specifically, Charlie’s commentary can be just as easily applied to most suburbs.

My biggest problem with “Screwed Up Life” was the total tone switch about halfway through the story. We as readers go from hearing about crushes and drunken parties and Homecoming to assisted suicide, divorce, and bullying. I understood that life had to get worse for Charlie, that he had to face some of the issues the author had sort of been implying, but I didn’t buy his reactions–or the reactions of the other people involved–to these issues.

Maybe it was the irreverent voice with which the majority of the novel was written. Even when something bad was happening, I never quite felt the seriousness of it because even Charlie himself didn’t seem to. And in spite of the hilarity of the story as a whole, most of the emotionally resonant moments for me weren’t what Ferguson had probably intended.

I enjoyed “The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second,” and I’m glad I read it. I don’t think I’d wait years to read it again though.

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