Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reality Boy by A. S. King

Gerald Faust was an angry little kid, but his family being part of the reality show Network Nanny, supposedly designed to help families with problem children, made things even worse.  Now Gerald is 17 and as angry as ever.  In his small town, there is no way to escape the child that everyone saw acting out on TV.  Gerald has been working to control his anger, but it doesn't matter.  Everyone is just waiting for him to do something crazy, and Gerald is becoming tempted to give it to them.

It's hard to describe this book.  It's hard to describe the level of fucked-upness that is Gerald's family.  His older sister, Tasha, who tried again and again to kill him and his other sister, Lisi.  His mother, who seems to have no real feelings for him.  His father, who has long ago given up trying to make any changes.  Gerald is trapped in this world.  And he is so, so angry.  It's easy to see why.  Who wouldn't be?  The people around him expect him to fail and to end up in jail. Gerald is clinging to the idea that if he can just get through high school he can get away like Lisi did by going to college.  Except his mother finds the idea of him going to college laughable.

The book does a good job of showing how reality TV is far, far from reality.  We only see what the producers want us to see.  Everything else, they cut or manipulate.  They can make people look a certain way.  Make people look good or bad.  And then we think we actually know something about these people we see on TV, when we know nothing at all.

Gerald meets a girl, Hannah.  I was worried at first.  I was worried Hannah was going to be Gerald's manic pixie dream girl.  The one who would lift him up and show him how to live and solve all this problems.  And then probably die in some tragic way.  And yeah, she was a little manic pixie dream girlish, but not full on.  Not in the main way, which means she didn't fix everything.  Gerald and Hannah wanted each other to be able to fix each other's problems.  But of course they couldn't.  Due in part to that they weren't being completely open about what their problems actually were.  And in part because you can't just fix people.  People aren't broken things that can be easy repaired.  Hannah and Gerald were able to help and support each other, but they had to take actual action to make their lives better.  They had to make hard choices and difficult decisions.  And sure, they did it all while on a wild and crazy road trip that involved staying with a circus family, but it was still there.  There was work involved.  Not everything was perfect.  They did stupid things to each other and had fights.  Hannah was dealing with stuff that she wanted to run away from too.  She wasn't just there to make Gerald feel better.  She wanted things from him too.

The book didn't turn away from difficult topics, like Hannah admitting to Gerald that she was afraid he might hit her.  Gerald is so angry, of course he would never hit her!  But then thinking about and realizing that he just doesn't know.

Excellent.  Probably the best YA I've read all year.

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