When Liam is assigned an essay on his greatest talent, there is no question in his mind what he will write about. There’s one thing in life that he can do better than anyone else: screw up. Even when Liam TRIES to screw up, he screws that up. He’s the King of the Screwups. And so it’s no big shock to Liam when his ultra-successful type-A dad finally sends him away. It is, however, a shock that he’s going to live in a trailer park with his cross-dressing, glam-rocking Aunt Pete.
When Liam gets to his new home, he does everything he can to reinvent himself in the image of his father. He wants so badly to be studious, brilliant in school, and as unpopular as possible in the hopes of gaining his father’s love. But things don’t go quite as he planned it – his grades aren’t exactly improving, the head cheerleader is taking quite an interest in him, and in a hysterical scene he somehow manages to make the A.V. Club hip.
This is a tough book in that it looks like a light screwball comedy, and a lot of it reads that way, but at the heart of the story is an abusive relationship between a parent and a child. It is never physically abusive, but there is no question that Liam’s treatment by his father – and to some extent his mother as well – is mentally and emotionally abusive. Liam’s complete lack of faith in himself, and his willingness to dismiss his considerable talents, are a direct result of that treatment.
Fortunately, taking Liam away from his parents puts him in the care of a new group of people who are willing to see the great things about Liam. Aunt Pete and his band buddies have a tough line to walk – Liam is not open to hearing negative things about his dad or positive things about himself, and Pete does not have any experience with teenage boys. But they are a strong, thoughtful, supportive group of guys. And when they finally latch on to Liam’s love for fashion, they are able to help him find the good in himself.
Liam is a likeable guy – sometimes almost in spite of himself. And while it hurts to hear his skewed self-perceptions, he is a pleasure to get to know. With Liam and her other characters, K.L. Going presents people who cheerfully defy their first-impression stereotypes. Once again, Going has given us a winner.
K.L. Going on the web. (Go check out the fun contest that’s happening on her web page!)
King of the Screwups on the web.