Ever look back on your high school days and think, “Wow, that was terrible. I wonder if anyone could have possibly had it worse than I did back then?” The answer to that is, “Yes, and his name is Charles James Stewart, Jr. You can read all about him in The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second, by Drew Ferguson.” (It is fiction, though, so this is just a made-up miserable high school experience, as compared to your real-life miserable high school experience.)
Charlie is a gay, soccer-playing, awkward-looking, high school senior whose parents are pushing him to go to college and also thinking about getting a divorce while his dad is running for state’s attorney for McHenry County. This in itself could lead to interesting possibilities, but you’ve also got to throw in the hot new kid in town, Rob, who hooks up with Charlie (often) and whose mother is fighting a losing battle with ALS.
What I found most intriguing about this book is how real the voice was. The story is told through journal entries written by Charlie himself. He tells the story as it happens but also exhibits through snide comments and angst a typical teenager’s personality—most specifically, that of a teenager’s raging hormones and sex life.
This book is fairly erotic. There’s a lot of graphic description, but paired with Charlie’s snarky voice, it’s somewhat humorous. He constantly describes it when “Mr. Five-Incher” gets excited and why, sometimes going into far more detail than need be. In one particular scene, “Mr. Five-Incher” makes an appearance at a funeral, and Charlie, doing what obviously needs to be done to get rid of it, starts jerking off in the funeral parlor bathroom. He does a lot of jerking off, but that just contributes to how authentic his voice sounds.
When he’s not jerking off or trying to find a place to jerk off or thinking about jerking off, Charlie’s actually exploring some pretty heavy topics. He has to find a way to deal with his parents’ fighting and the possibility of a divorce. He has to struggle to comprehend what’s happening to Rob’s mom. He has to deal with all of the harassment and bullying he’s subject to at school because of his sexuality. Ferguson does an excellent job at finding the perfect way to mix these humorous and serious themes throughout the novel. Done any other way and it wouldn’t be tasteful.
In addition to all of this, one of the reasons I personally enjoyed it was because of Ferguson’s use of hyphenated adjectives. I’m a huge fan of the super-long-and-somewhat-unnecessary-adjectives-that-describe-the-perfect-scenario-for-a-certain-action-by-stringing-together-a-bunch-of-words-with-hyphens-exactly-like-this adjectives, and there are definitely a lot of these in the book. Sometimes they take up multiple lines at a time. Take that as you will, but I definitely enjoyed them.
If you’re looking for an authentic, quirky, sarcastic, erotic look into the world of a gay, awkward, soccer-playing teen, then this is the perfect book for you. And even if you aren’t, give it a read. This was one of those I-probably-would-never-had-read-it-or-even-heard-of-it-if-my-professor-hadn’t-recommended-it-to-me books and I enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.