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.

Advertisements

review: Bait by J. Kent Messum

bait

Thanks to the librarian-loving folks at Edelweiss and Penguin Group, I read a horrifying reality TV-like book on my way back from Las Vegas last month. That book is J Kent Meesum’s debut novel Bait, and this story of six heroin addicts stranded together on an island in the Florida Keys is enough to turn any addict straight, for fear of ending up in the hands of similarly sadistic vigilantes.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.

Six heroin addicts wake up on a deserted island. Say what? Yeah. Addict or not, that would shock a person. They don’t know each other, but they know each other because they know themselves as addicts; as individuals who made poor decisions that led them to wake up on that island. To be pawns in the game of sanctimonious men who consider their efforts to be true and good. To be shark bait.

The 6 addicts were not left on the island to die. No, they were left on the island to fight. To gain back the very thing they had each spend considerable amounts of time and money wasting. While traversing shark-infested waters and scavenger hunts, the backstories of the six are uncovered. Readers sympathize a little, despise a lot, and gasp often. This is no gentle tale of vigilantes turning addicts into proper people again. This is a fast-paced story of intense emotions and hair-raising action.

Recommended for:
I cannot wait to recommend this to older teen boys who will understand that the drug references and situations should be taken seriously, not as just a thing to get through to get to the shark fights. I’ll also recommend this to adults who need something new and fresh. This is unlike any adult novel I’ve read in a long time. Messum definitely did not follow a typical story formula.

Read-alikes:
I truthfully cannot think of anything. I’ll say Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell and The Contortionists Handbook by Craig Clevenger, if only because of the gritty realism.

—————————————————————————————————————-

I find it extremely fitting that this book debuts a mere week after the conclusion of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. I love the timing, and need to ask my bff and Shark Week aficionado Michelle if Penguin ran advertisements for this novel during any of the particularly gruesome Shark Week shows.

If you’re interested in interviews and such, follow him on his book blog tour this month and next.

Review: The Elite by Kiera Cass

cass

I read the first book in this series The Selection last March. I wrote that it “perfectly combines elements of modern reality TV, with a futuristic dystopian society, and the historic ideologies and pressures of being a royal family.” 

But Cass kind of let me down with its sequel The Elite. 

What I loved:
Unlike with most sequels, Cass didn’t spend the entire first chapter revisiting the previous novel. (I hate when authors do that. If you read the first, you don’t need a grade-school summary leading you to into the second. Forgot what the first was about? Re-read the last chapter or the entire thing.) She dove right into the new material, getting to work on reminding us about why we fell in love with Prince Maxon and “bachelorette #6” America Singer.

I loved that America’s ferocious sense of right and wrong was upheld. When her friend is being wronged, despite her own wrongdoings, America behaves the way everyone else should have. Thank you, Cass, for keeping her strong.

What I did not love:
The very thing that earned one potential-princess a spot on the first train out of town in The Selection earned America nothing more than a stern look from the Queen in The Elite. And America and Aspen sneak away less than a day after another princess-to-be is caned for being caught in a compromising position with a guard. I really don’t like that Cass lets America get away with the very things that others were punished for, with no explanation whatsoever.

America is a teenaged girl, so her affections for Maxon and Aspen change with the wind…but I found her to be a bit too fickle to be taken seriously. 

Recommended for:
While I will continue to recommend The Selection, I will not be recommending The Elite. :/

Book 19: The Selection (book 1) by Kiera Cass

Thanks to my friend, library patron, and blogger extraordinaire Amy, I was able to get my hands on the ARC of The Selection by Kiera Cass. Set for a May 2012 release, this YA novel perfectly combines elements of modern reality TV, with a futuristic dystopian society, and the historic ideologies and pressures of being a royal family.

America Singer lives in a world where the caste system decides for each person, at birth, what their life will be, what kind of job they can perform, and what kind of lifestyle they will live. The royal family is ‘One’, and the poorest and jobless are ‘8’. America is a ‘5’ and is of the performer caste, so she and her family make their money as artists and musicians, but art is commissioned and gigs are booked only at the need of the higher castes, so the Singer family lives at the mercy of wealthier families. The only way to rise in the caste system is to marry up; which is exactly what America and 34 other girls chosen from across the country of Illea are hoping for.

America and the other girls are vying for the attention of Prince Maxon. Whereas princesses are married off to other countries (in an attempt to strengthen international ties), princes of Illea must go through the selection, a televised “The Bachelor”-like reality show that begins with makeovers and ends in a proposal. But in Illea there are no do-overs, divorces, or break-ups like with nearly every single Bachelor/Bachelorette couple. The rise in caste improves not only the girl’s status, but her family’s as well, making the selection a very serious matter (especially for a ‘5’ like America).

This story is just wonderful. America is a very likeable character. What I respect most about her is that she loves her family, but refuses to martyr herself for their happiness. She doesn’t want to be a part of the selection, in fact she only puts her name in at the urging of the boy she loves; he, being a caste ‘6’, would never forgive himself if he took from her an opportunity to improve her life. Noble, I suppose. :/ So anyway, she does what he asks and, as you know from previous sentences, gets chosen!

The twists in the story are really great and, whether because I’m naive or because I actually enjoy reading a book without trying to figure out the ending, I didn’t see them coming! And I actually love where the author ended the novel. No cliffhanger; just a simple “To be continued…”. I will definitely be recommending this book to young adult girls and adult women who love YA literature. The characters are real, although some are a bit stereotyped (but it’s a reality tv show! That’s too be expected.)

So interesting fact…I first heard of this book by fellow librarian Liz, who pointed out that the three books are being published just as the TV show is being aired (a la Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars). An article published this week names some of the cast members, so the show probably won’t air until later this year (?). I hate that it is being produced by the CW, because really…what good TV have they ever made? Regardless, I’ll definitely give the first episode a shot! I truly enjoy seeing characters brought to life on the TV or silver screen.

…hence why I am STOKED about The Hunger Games tonight!!!!

No seriously…a month ago I bought 14 tickets for me and 13 of my most favorite people. (Um, they’re paying me back folks…I’m a librarian, not a millionaire.) I will refrain from posting any movie review for a couple days. I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone.