In his latest novel, Screwups, Jamie Fessenden gives us a view of campus life through the eyes of its coolest inhabitants, nerds. We all knew them; many of us were them, the artsy kids who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere else. These were the students who role played in costumes and painted their dorm walls with murals. They seemed to walk to the beat of their own drum and have way more fun doing so than the rest of the student body. I was one such young adult and so reading Screwups was like taking a step back in time and feeling just a bit of a thrill to know that university really hasn’t changed that much since I graced its halls.
This is the story of two young men, both in their own way, hiding something life altering. For Jake, it is the fact that he is gay. He has known for some time that he will never conform to his father’s overbearing standard of becoming a company drone. Inside him lays an artist desperate to sketch and a man equally eager to be with another man. But Jake is trapped; his father holds the financial key to his remaining in college and so he hides his sexuality and his talent until he makes the bold move to apply for admittance to the “artsy” dorm on campus. It is there that he meets Danny.
Danny harbors a secret of his own and it has steadily eaten away at his heart and soul until it has left behind nightmares that rock him to his core. Jake become Danny’s roommate and before long this quiet musician will find himself drawn to the obviously closeted Jake. But Danny cannot allow himself to put any weight on the fact that eventually Jake will want him for his lover. He must resist falling for this boy because the past has taught him that to do so brings pain and humiliation. So here our two boys stand, both fighting demons, both needing to be loved and both wanting the other as more than just a casual fling.
Screwups dares to expose a real slice of campus life, co-ed dorms. While some reading this novel may feel that this author’s delivery seems over the top, particularly when reading the scenes where there are nude parties or streaking down dormitory hallways, I would caution them that this is far more realistic than they imagine. How many college parties end with students in bed, for instance, or fraternity initiations peppered with naked men streaking across campus? I found his depictions of dorm life so spot on—realistic, funny, angsty and oh so true. From the role-playing games to the pizza and beer, this author immerses us in a life that lives outside the norm and yet contains characters that are immensely likable and vulnerable.
The issues facing Danny and Jake are those affecting so many of young men and women today. Danny pulls at your heart as you watch him wrestle with one past moment in his life where the need to be loved caused him to make a bad decision that ultimately destroyed his self esteem so effectively he believed the lies spread about him in it’s wake. Jake encapsulates what is so very wrong about our society today and how we callously toss aside and condemn anyone whose lifestyle is not our own. His fear of reprisal and agonizing truth that his father would rather see him dead then gay is one that far too many gay youth have had to struggle with over the years.
Screwups looks at real issues by creating a sensitive and compelling story that both entertains and pulls at our hearts. It is a coming of age story, a coming out saga, and a tale of redemption and forgiveness. This novel is beautifully written with a realistic vein that speaks to so many and says to them that there are people who see them, who understand their fears and get their pain. Screwups states with grace and poignancy that there is always a second chance for us and that we can find love and forgiveness if we dare to believe they can be ours. I highly recommend this novel to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.