review: Reality Boy by A.S. King

realityA.S. King has a way with words. A way that makes me cry. Not like it takes much to make me cry, but there are some books that do it to me, and it is genuine. This is one of those books.

It’s also one of those books that makes me question why we – Americans, humans, decent people – think certain things are okay. Why is it okay that we put children on reality TV shows, often in unflattering situations? Just for a good laugh? Or to make us feel better about our own not-so-great family lives? “Man, we sure are effed up, but at least we aren’t like those crazy fools on TV! Honey, grab me another beer!”

I should tell you what it’s about. That’s what a book review should begin with, right?

Reality Boy by AS King is about Gerald. He is sixteen now, but was only six when his family was on a reality TV show that is a lot like Supernanny – an actual TV show that puts a British nanny into an American household to whip the kids and family into shape. Gerald’s family was on the show, and his actions led him to be ridiculed and bullied over the past ten years. Dubbed “the crapper” for his penchant for defecating in random locations around the house – shoes, closets, tables, beds –  Gerald was thought to be acting out when in fact it was the only way he could think to respond to the violent sociopath living right under his own roof.

Gerald attends anger management classes, practices stress-reducing techniques including deep breathing and going to a safe place in his head, all in order to stay calm and not violent. Sometimes he is successful, other times not. Gerald’s story is a very difficult one to read, but one that just has to be true. There’s no conceivable way that real-life “reality kids” are not as scarred as the fictional Gerald. No way can a film crew walk into their lives and leave it in a better state.

I’ve been a reality TV show fan for many years. I love Top Chef, Rock of Love (yeah…the Bret Michaels show), Biggest Loser, Bachelor, etc…but those are adults. Adults who know what reality TV is like, that they can be portrayed as someone they are not by creative editing, that it is a game to be played. But those are adults. I have no sympathy for them. But when children are pulled into this crap, I can’t stand it. Even if it’s not a competitive show, even if it’s just a look into their lives – a la the Duggars – it is not okay. They didn’t ask for the cameras. They have no idea that what is filmed can be edited to make them look whatever way the producers think will grab more viewers.

Reality Boy is believable. It is scary and sad, but hopeful. Gerald, and a couple people in his life, hope for a better future. There is despair, but there is also hope. And for some people, that is what helps them push through each and every day.

Recommended for: 
Boys, girls, teens, and reality TV show fans (for the behind-the-scenes chapters. I wonder if King did any research into that).

Read-alikes: 
Eleanor & Park
and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, for their gritty realism.

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Book 18 (kind of…): The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides is the most pedantic novel I have EVER READ. I honestly believe the author listed all philosophy tomes, religious studies texts, and Classic novels he has ever read, then built a story around name-dropping the titles, authors, philosophers, and deities. Not even one audio CD in, Eugenides made me feel uneducated and stupid, very similar to the feelings I would get sometimes in my upper-level undergrad courses at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. (Darn fine school, let me tell you…but it is an honor’s college and I quite often felt that I wasn’t as smart as my peers, plenty of whom behaved just like this book’s pretentious main characters.)

The main character, Maddie, is a whiny WASP from New Jersey who falls in love too quickly with the wrong guys. Perhaps I hate the book so much because I see some of myself (and every girl I’ve ever known) in her. The part that none of us wants to admit that we have been like.

Whatever, I still don’t like her.

I did not finish the book. Now before you tell me I can’t post a review of a book I did not complete, let me tell you “Yes, yes I can”. As my soon-to-be-aunts Barb and Lorre said, life is too short to read books that suck (I’m paraphrasing here).

There is no one I would recommend this book to. …except the kids at SMCM that made me feel stupid when they talked circles around the rest of the class and the professor. They will fall madly in love with the characters and probably stalk and kidnap Eugenides and force him into a philosophical discussion that will end in both party’s brains exploding from the nonsense. Link

Book 17: Also Known As Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher

Also Known As Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher is an amusing yet serious Young Adult novel about high school sophomore Bobby Steele, who happens to share a name (and an apartment) with a man with the same name…a man who, in an uncharacteristic fit of rage, abused his wife, causing her to leave him and their two sons behind. For that reason, young Bobby found it quite easy to re-name and re-make himself into the kind of boy who would get accepted to the preppy private school in town, Whitestone Academy. The kind of boy who would get the pretty, leggy, blond girl. The kind of guy that, when faced with bullies, stood up to them.

I adore the character of Bobby/Rowan. He is authentic, he is likeable, he is a bit naive, and he is even scared…but he (almost) always does the right thing. I cannot wait to recommend this book to young readers (as young as 10/11, or as old as a less-mature 17).

One last comment…my coworker pointed out that the novel is dedicated to the incredible YA author Chris Crutcher. Here is the dedication: “For Chris Crutcher, fine writer and friend, who helped me envision this book when it was still a tiny wet thing, rising from the straw on wobbly legs”. We can all use a friend like that…

Book 2: You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

You are my Only by Beth Kephart is a beautifully written novel of love, loss, regret, and discovery. The story is told in alternating voices, beginning with the teenaged Sophie whose mother packs up and relocates when the “no goods” knock on the door. Sophie has never gone to school, is not permitted to leave the home, but is book smart due to her mother’s homeschooling. Sophie falls in love with the boy next door, who leads her on a difficult and exhilarating path of righting the life of wrongs she has been a victim to.
The second voice is the teenaged Emmy who, in a moment she will regret for the rest of her life, leaves her baby outside while she runs in to grab a blanket. Baby is stolen, and Emmy’s emotional break down lands her in a psychiatric hospital. Emmy continues to suffer after the kidnapping of Baby, both with her own freedoms being revoked, and watching her roommate’s taken away as well.
This story is not an easy one to read, and the ending is not your typical happy ending. It’s no Living Dead Girl, and the reader is not left smiling, but pondering. The story of kidnapped youth have been popular this year, most notably Stolen by Lucy Christopher, a 2011 Printz Award honor book, and Room by Emma Donoghue. Both of these, despite being award-winning and hugely popular, respectively, focused so much on the kidnapping aspect that the reader could not get away from it. Kephart, on the other hand, used the kidnapping as an undertone. You knew all along that it happened, but it was not overtly mentioned on every page, keeping the reader from reading and grasping the rest of the story.
I will recommend this book to mature 12 year-olds and up. It is poetic in its writing, beautifully descriptive, honest, and intelligent.