I’ve told pretty much everyone I know that reading this book has been like watching a train wreck. You know you shouldn’t stand there with your mouth hanging open, but you can’t tear yourself away either.
As I am sitting here and writing, I am struggling with what to even say. To describe Augusten’s childhood as horrific is an understatement and in some ways sanitizes his experience by generalizing it. But even in the madness and squalor there were some bright points and the author has no problem showing them along with the nastier side of things. In fact, his sense of humor is the only thing that allows the reader to even continue with the book. Otherwise the events in this man’s life would be so unrelentingly horrifying that you would have to turn away. I thought one of the funniest lines was when he was describing the difference between his mother just being upset and going over the edge. “She used her teasing voice, as opposed to her disturbing let’s go to the mall in blackface voice.” In one sentence not only did the author characterize the difference between normal and crazy in his mother but he also worked in an example of the crazy behavior without going into paragraphs recounting the incident. You get the picture quickly.
As Augusten ages in the book, it becomes harder to read because as time goes on he realizes just how much he is missing and things become less funny. At first, when he moves into the Finches house, it is a kids dream. OK, the place is disgustingly dirty, but there are no rules. You can do whatever you want whenever you want. But things start to take a darker turn when Augusten, at thirteen, is sexually assaulted by a twenty-six year old man and then goes on to have an affair with him for the next four years. And no adult stepped in to say “No.” Dr. Finch felt a thirteen year old was capable of making their own decisions. As the parent of a twelve year old, it made me cringe.
My husband and I have a way of describing teenagers. They are like a herd of zebras. They all want to be in the middle because the ones on the edge get eaten by the lions. Even Augusten, with his crazy life wanted nothing more than to be in the middle of the herd, even though he was so far out of it he couldn’t see the dust. The author does a great job describing this in a couple of journal entries that are reproduced in the book. In these entries Augusten obsesses over the future and what he is going to do with his life. All the typical teenage worries, if you subtract out the parts about being with a man in his late twenties that is.
Towards the end of the book, Augusten realizes that no one has done him a favor. “The problem with not having anybody to tell you what to do, I understood, is that there was nobody to tell you what not to do.” Once he leaves the Finches house and then is completely on his own that realization becomes: “I was seventeen, I had no formal education, no job training, no money, no furniture, no friends.” But on the other hand, all that freedom did give him one thing, the self reliance to go out and get a job, find an apartment and keep going.
The big question is can I recommend this book? I would say yes, but brace yourself. It is hard to read in a lot of places. I kept putting it down when things got too intense. Then I would pick it back up again a couple days later. I couldn’t leave it be, a lot like watching that train wreck.