I can’t remember the last time I read a book with a protagonist as distinctive as Cricket Cherpin, the seventeen-year-old narrator of Scott Blagden’s debut YA novel Dear Life, You Suck. Some reviewers have compared Cricket to Holden (Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye) and I guess I can see it, but I found Cricket less navel-gazey and more sympathetic than Holden, although I guess that might just be a function of context.
Cricket has lived at the Naskeag Home for Boys in Maine since he was eight. The way Cricket describes it, “It was a minimum-security facility, so the joint looks more like a mansion than a penitentiary, but you’ll never catch me calling this jailhouse home.” More often than not, Cricket refers to it as “Prison.” The Home is run by Mother Mary, a formidable figure; “She’s a presence. A planet. She has her own gravity.” Cricket has a million names for Mother Mary: Mother Mary Mockery. Mother Mary Mushroom Cloud. Mother Mary Mafia. You get the picture.
Cricket’s mouth often gets him into trouble. So do his fists. Caretaker, the actual caretaker at the home, has been teaching Cricket to box for years, but he only uses his fists to protect the Little Ones – the younger boys who live at the home – and the weaker students at school. Cricket won’t start a fight, but he is certainly capable of ending it.
There are clues that Cricket has had it tough. When his flakey English teacher, Moxie Lord, asks her students to write a letter to anyone they “have beef with but ain’t ever had the nads to tell”, Cricket writes a letter to life. When Ms. Lord actually takes Cricket’s letter seriously, it compels him to dig a little deeper and in doing so he starts to unearth his trauma.
What are the prospects for a foul-mouthed, quick-tempered, irreverent teenager? Cricket might not think he has much going for him or much to look forward to beyond taking a more active role in his BFF’s drug business, but there are more people in Cricket’s corner than he realizes.
Sure, the story isn’t new, but Cricket’s distinctive voice, and good heart make Dear Life, You Suck, a total winner in my book.