Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Unreview of Reality Boy, by A.S. King

This is such a wonderful, dizzying, infuriating, brilliant, and terrible book. I actually read it a few weeks ago, and needed to give it some time to sink in before I decided what I had to say about it. Before I get to my thoughts, let me allow the Goodreads summary to warm you up:

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

Okay. So I've read every book that A.S. King has ever written, well okay, published. I love every single one of them, but Reality Boy is perhaps my favorite. Gerald, AKA The Crapper, is the most tender, bad-ass, sad, thoughtful, damaged, and sympathetic character I have read in a long time. He is not the only great thing about this book, but if he were, it would be enough.

Gerald's past is ... obviously pretty screwed up. His family is a mess, with the one healthy member, the middle sister, having fled to college and left her little brother to the devices of one of the most dysfunctional families I have ever read, made up of his neurotic mother, apathetic father, and let's face it ... psychopathic eldest sister (disclaimer, I'm not a psychologist, but she is truly evil, trust me).

King has this incredible ability to create characters you can simultaneously care for and be exasperated by. This especially applies to the parents in her young adult novels. Lucky Linderman's mother in Everybody Sees the Ants. Vera Dietz's father in Please Ignore Vera Dietz. And Gerald the Crapper's dad in Reality Boy. These people, and I'm sure the reason I connect with them so deeply has a lot to do with me being a parent myself, are so real and human in their flaws, you can't help but want to hold them, right after slapping some sense into them.

And these are just the parents, who in a YA novel are clearly only side characters.

Gerald is the protagonist, and he's a unique one at that. His past has left him angry and closed off to the world, and he has some interesting coping mechanisms, like seeing himself in a candy-coated world, surrounded by fluffy Disney characters, whenever the world becomes too much for him to take. King is known for her magical realism, and I suppose you could say Gerald's friends play that part in this book, but I took it to be much more psychological than Lucky's ants or Vera's paper dolls, and in many ways, that made it all the sadder. Gerald works at a concession stand at the hockey arena selling hot dogs, pretzels, and beer, and dreaming of running away with the traveling circus that comes to town. You might think that would be a terrible, thankless job, but he likes his boss, who is pretty cool, and he really likes his co-worker, Hannah, who eventually becomes his girlfriend.

Anyway, I'm straying too far into synopsis territory here, but I want to make it clear: this is a powerful, wonderful read, but it's a difficult book too, and I found myself infuriated at times, thinking about the things our society does to our children, and how we expect them to grow up in this age of technology and instant gratification. One thing I always do before recommending a book is to check Goodreads and Amazon (if the book is out) and try to find some one star reviews, to see if there is anyone out there who doesn't like the book, and also has the ability to make any sense out of why. Well, I couldn't find any of those for Reality Boy, and even though it's a challenging read, I think that's because most people will recognize its importance.

I would certainly recommend it for teenagers, but I think it's an especially important read for parents.

Reality Boy will release on October 22nd, but for now you can find A.S. King:


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