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King of the Screwups
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this novel for teens has many sexual references, and a scene in which a boy and girl undress each other, but are interrupted before they can have sex. There is also a fair amount of swearing and many approving references to clothing and shoe brands from the fashion-oriented teenaged main character.
What's the story?
Everyone loves Liam -- except his father, who has convinced him that he is nothing but a screwup. After his latest transgression (getting caught in his father's office with a girl) Liam's father kicks him out of the house. But rather than go to live with his rigid grandparents, he goes to stay with his father's brother, Aunt Pete, a cross-dressing, homosexual, glam-rocker and radio DJ who lives in a trailer park. Starting in a new school, Liam tries to become what his father wants him to be so that he'll be proud of Liam and allow him to come back home. But Liam just doesn't seem to be able to pull it off.
Is it any good?
This is a hilarious, and ultimately devastating, portrait of a kid who has been emotionally and verbally abused (along with his mother). We've all known kids like Liam -- bright, creative, talented, lovable -- who have fallen under the sway of someone who has convinced them that they're worthless, and they can't seem to see themselves through anyone else's eyes. Readers will be on Liam's side from the start. Even though the story is told in Liam's voice, readers will cotton on pretty quickly to the reality that Liam can't see and, so compelling is the author's way of telling the story, they will want to set him straight. But doing so is not so easy.
With italicized flashbacks to pivotal moments in Liam's life, readers get to see him both inside and out, past and present. Even though he is popular in both his old and new schools, the author induces a powerful feeling of empathy for him, something unusual in young adult books, in which popularity almost always equates with mean and shallow. Equally unusual is straight Liam's fashion sense, so perfectly presented that it may have even boys taking a closer look at their wardrobes, and his gay uncle and friends, none of whom fit into a stereotype -- or anti-stereotype. Liam's father is a bit one-dimensional, but since it is Liam telling the story, that makes some sense. All of the other characters are fully-realized, realistic, and delightful. And though it is often laugh-out-loud funny, this is a book that packs an emotional wallop, and one that is fairly earned.
From the Book:
"My dad," I say defiantly. "Because even though I don't look like him and I'm not smart like him, he's still my dad."
For a single second my father's chest swells. His eyes go from hard to soft. But then, before I have time to savor the moment, I screw up. And it's not just any screwup. It's the mother of all screwups.
"I know," I tell the interviewer on national TV, "because they got the paternally test and everything. I heard Mom say it to my nana. She said if we hadn't got the paternally test, she never would have believed it."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why people, such as the main character and his mother, who are treated badly often tend to identify with and defend their abuser. Why does Liam believe and internalize everything his father tells him, even when it's obvious to everyone else that he is wrong? Why doesn't his mother take his side? Why does this boy who obviously has so much going for him think that he has no talents except for screwing up? Has anyone ever made you think badly of yourself? Were they right or wrong? How did you deal with it?