(nb: via NetGalley,I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review)
I wanted to like “Screwed.” Based on the description and the cover, I was intrigued: the “perfect” daughter of super-conservative abstinence-only championing parents has sex one time. She gets pregnant, and–when she follows her convictions and refuses the abortion her parents insist upon–her pro-life parents kick their abortion-refusing daughter out of the house.
Then you look at the book’s cover: it’s a girl, all alone, backpack weighing her down, walking down a mostly empty road. I imagined a story of unimaginable trials and insurmountably awful conditions.
Instead, the girl is homeless for a couple hours, during which she sleeps in a chaise lounge in her family’s side yard. At this point, the millionaire widow from the mansion across the street walks over and takes her in, loves her, gets her awesome medical care, gives her a Platinum Card for any extras, and even provides her impossibly handsome/awesome nephew, Charlie, as an in-house love interest.
And the girl’s name is, appropriately, Grace.
Nick, the sperm-donor/hot evil boy who knocked-up Grace is portrayed like a 1980’s John Hughes-movie bad guy (probably played by 1984-era James Spader), while handsome, cultured, sensitive Charlie is too good to be true. Grace talks about how she’s all geeky, and yet the two hottest guys in school are/were interested in her.
Shown next to the rest of the characters, Grace’s best friend, Jennifer, comes off incredibly brash, simply because she’s the most three-dimensional character in the book. Everyone else is black or white: they either judge Grace to be a dumb slut who deserves her fate, or they see Grace as being an innocent who was wronged by this evil Nick boy.
Jennifer sees the gray in her best friend. She seems to be the only one who loves Grace, but also sees Grace’s culpability in the situation. Yes, Grace was out of her league, but she wasn’t roofied up or anything: she could’ve said no when Nick stuck his hand inside her panties, but she didn’t.
Actually, I misspoke: Grace herself admits her culpability. Everyone in her circle is so ready to blame Nick for everything, that Grace actually has to argue that she was complicit in the impregnating backseat mounting.
(Her reason for giving it up on the third date seems unworthy for a genius kid–because she thought Nick would fall in love with her–but Lord knows I’ve done similarly stupid things hoping love would evolve, so no points off for that)
Where I had the most trouble with “Screwed” was with its point-of-view. In most YA novels, we would watch Grace talk to Charlie. We’d see the action–the two of them sitting on an old sofa, talking; we’d hear them speak to each another, but we’d only hear Grace’s thoughts. This is third-person limited omniscient.
Sometimes, the limited omniscience will alternate chapters: in Chapter 1, we’re privy to Grace’s thoughts, then in Chapter 2, we see Charlie’s.
In “Screwed,” there are times when we see everyone’s thoughts. Grace says a line to Charlie, then we read how much Grace likes Charlie, but doesn’t think he likes her back. Then Charlie replies to Grace with a sentence, then we read how much Charlie likes Grace, but doesn’t think she likes him back. Used sparingly, it’s forgivable, but in “Screwed,” it weakens the story. Certain times when two female characters were talking, I had to look back a few sentences to see whose thoughts I was reading.
All that said, I did not hate “Screwed.” Punch-up a few of the characters, change how some things happen, work with a good editor to strengthen the point-of-view, and “Screwed” could be an excellent book.
The potential was there. “Screwed” just needed some tough love to grow up healthy.