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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review: Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader

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Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader landed on my lap because the (awesome, incredible, book-loving) manager of my library’s Programming Division was in contact with Nader about a possible YA author’s panel program at my library. As any programming librarian (especially those who work with youth) knows, you can’t just say “Yeah, sure!” to every author who wants to visit the library (no matter how much you want to). Time and meeting room space aside, publicly promoting a book you have never read can have bad consequences. So my boss-lady and I decided that we would consider the program only after reading the book. Nader gave us 5 copies of the book, and I cannot wait to meet with the teens who picked up a copy so we can discuss this book! Awesome division manager, move forward with booking her!

Mia is 16 and has lived in Eden – a small religious community set in a fictional South America town – for six years. She has never really liked it, not necessarily hoping for her old life, but just not feeling comfortable or safe as the others do. Then Gabriel and his parents join Eden, and he opens Mia’s eyes to all of the things that aren’t quite right. She sees things she cannot forget, and her desire to get away turns into a desperate need. But she grapples with leaving behind her mother and little brother, and everyone else she loves and wants to protect.

The action scenes are longer than in most YA novels, but I didn’t find myself skipping them. Nader really packed a lot of punch into each scene, especially the ones that got Mia’s heart racing. The more passionate scenes definitely made me a little warm in the neck, but it is tame enough for a YA novel. It was done tastefully, which I appreciate. The chemistry between the two teens as well as Gabriel’s perfect mix of wit and gruff is really what drives the novel. I liked his depth.

Recommended for:
Teen girls and adult women who read YA will be happy they read this. It has the sinister cult leader and his team of bad guys, passion that is always right on the precipice, and a lot of action. I think teen boys may appreciate Mia’s determination and heroics, as well. I’d consider recommending this to the right teen boy.

Read-alikes:
This has a Hunger Games and YA dystopic thing going on, without being set in a different world. Cults have been around for a while, and this is quite reminiscent of the Jonestown massacre of 1978. I watched a documentary on Jonestown a few years ago and thinking of it still gives me chills. I think I’ll forever link that doc with this novel.

Wednesday review

Another week. Another shelf full of books on hold me yours truly. Another sigh as I release that book from my holding to give to the next person in line. So long Cuckoo’s Calling. Farewell Shadow and Bone. It’s not you. It’s me. I’ll come find you when I’m ready for you.

momentI totally judged A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury by its cover, and I am not ashamed to say it! Seriously, the peacock feather is so beautiful, and the intricate details of the orange pattern really drew me in. Until I sat down with it this morning I hadn’t even realized there was an eye on the cover! The book is set in India before Pakistan became its own country in 1971 as part of the Pakistan Movement of 1947. History lesson in a novel? Yeah!

Untitled-1The author of Escape from Eden is Elisa Nader, who lives locally. She gave me 5 copies of her book to give to my Recent Reads Teen Book Club members, and she may be coming to my library for an author event or panel. I am really enjoying this book and Mia and her escape from a cult.

Book 34: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan is the story of Paul and his many interesting friends (one of whom is a football-playing Drag Queen named Infinite, whom I personally adore). Paul loves the new boy Noah, but is conflicted by his emotions for an ex who dumped him rather harshly. Paul makes a boo-boo, hurting Noah, and spends the second half of the story trying to fix things. The language is fantastic (it’s a book by David Levithan…I would expect nothing less), and the story is whimsical yet predictable…but I don’t mind the predictability. In fact, in a time when many YA novels about gay teens has a character/many characters that breathe fire and brimstone akin to a Westboro Baptist Church protest, it was quite refreshing to read one where even those who don’t like homosexuality could see past that and still like the person. It was like a breath of fresh air.

Homosexuality is not the iffy topic in this book, because even those that don’t like gays aren’t dripping with hatred and violence. Instead, the book’s iffy topic is the romance. I’m an adult woman and even I was a bit put-off by the amount of affection and love that was going into Paul’s efforts to show Noah how he felt. It was unrealistic in the way that adults know that such love is unrealistic, but even in the way that teens will find it over-the-top and annoying.

I will definitely be recommending this book to those looking for gay teen fiction, or a YA novel brimming with romance and excellent characterization. I probably will not recommend this book to any adults, unless they enjoy YA fiction. In that case, I’ll bundle this with a cupcake and a John Green title (if I can find one on my library shelf).

Book 23: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman

Why We Broke up by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), illustrated by Maira Kalman is exactly what the title denotes…a story of a break-up. Quite a painful one at that. The intensity, the pain, the regrets…it is a typical high school break-up, but written so perfectly you’d think Handler was a 16 year old girl and not the 40-something author.

The story of the “different” Min and the basketball team co-captain, jock, jerk-extraordinaire Ed is well-written, but rather odd at the same time. What I mean is…the dialogue is abrupt and jerky, and somewhat difficult to follow when the conversation is really heated or excited. Regardless, I enjoyed the book and the story is one that is worth sharing. I will definitely recommend it to teenaged girls and adult women who enjoy YA romance/break-up lit. I don’t really know any boys that would be interested in this…so I wonder if it will be known as something other than a Printz Honor Book.

It could be more than that, though, because the Why We Broke Up Project on Tumblr is really cool. Authors and celebrities submitted their break-up stories to Handler and he posted them on his Tumblr account. You can even share your own breakup for the rest of the world to read. Should I add my text-message break-up story? (Yup! I did! And it was really therapeutic and he totally deserved it!)

(Some of) the writing is truly exquisite. I’d like to share a couple lines with you:

“So it all went into the box and the box went into my closet with some shoes on top that I never wear. Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb,” -p.3

“I gave you an adventure, Ed, right in front of you but you never saw it until I showed you, and that’s why we broke up,” -p.31