Tuesday, 15 October 2013

review: Reality Boy

by A. S. King
Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, October 22 2013
young adult contemporary
ARC received via publisher (thank you!)

Gerald Faust is the Crapper. That's all he's been to the millions of viewers of the TV reality show following his childhood, and it seems like he won't ever be more than the problem child with his parents, either. He's more than that now: he works on his anger issues, he has a part-time job, and he even has a crush on a girl... but it feels like it's all for nothing. It feels like nothing will ever change.
The cover:

The fragmented lines evoke the feel of a TV screen perfectly, and the sharp primary colours are stark and a wee bit unsettling. I'm neutral on the actual model and his expression/colouration, but matched with the colours and lines, this cover is pretty darn representative of the book.

The book:

God, A. S. King is insanely talented. Reality Boy is—if I had to sum it up in one word—intellectual. It's mind-bending and twisted and deep, so dark and yet so illuminating that it renders you breathless, stunned, aching. It's not always comfortable to be in Gerald's head; however, it is always 100% real. This book is so genuine it hurts.

So, Gerald. I expected to dislike him a lot more... but he is truly likeable: in a beautifully cultivated, unique voice, he admits his own foibles clearly to himself, he reflects on the paradigm shifts he goes through and he also has occasional absolute bursts of happiness that endear him entirely to the reader. Seriously, these happy scenes are delightful; they simultaneously make one want to hug him and also contrast the depths of the wrongness of the other aspects of his life.
When I get back from gym class, Deirdre tells me I look even sexier sweaty.
"Jesus, Deirdre," I say. "You're killing me here."
She spins her wheelchair around and smiles her crooked smile. "That's only because you want me and you can't have me," she says.
I smile at her. Then I notice that her right foot is off her footrest, and I reach down to put it on for her.
"While you're down there..." she says as I go to stand.
I turn bright red.
"You made him blush, Deirdre!" Karen says.
"Dude, you're gonna have to wear baggy clothes from now on," Kelly boy says. "These chicks are crazy."
Fletcher says, "Okay, guys. Can we please stop concentrating on Gerald's deltoids for a minute and get back to linear equations?" (p. 57 - 58)
Secondary characters are all shades of ambiguous: Gerald's family is absolutely messed up (one simply desires to give a kick in the head to his mother, father and sister Tasha), his shrink is unreliable, and his love interest is, like himself, far from perfect. In fact, the latter quarter of the book offers scene after scene featuring Gerald and Hannah by themselves, microcosms of the path of an authentic teen relationship. It's far from rainbows and butterflies; Gerald and Hannah have several uncomfortable confrontations in which the treacherous edges of a relationship are exposed. At the same time, they develop lovely motifs that echo through the book and deepen its themes.

Reality Boy is more of a character study than a traditional beginning-middle-end novel, and thus the plot hinges on the interactions of Gerald with other people, and the slow reveal of each episode of his childhood. The movement in this novel is spurred by the shifts and changes in Gerald's mindset, in the way he views the world and himself. As he confronts more and more of his old demons and discovers that the world is more full of shit and more full of possibility than he thought, the novel moves forward with him, to an ending that is heartbreaking and perfect and I think you should just go read this book, now.

Ethnic balance: Hmm, I'm really not sure; the way people are described in Gerald's voice isn't too clear, but I'm just going to go with 2 out of 5.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5