Title: Reality Boy
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: ARC (NetGalley)
Genres: Young Adult, Social Issues
Usually I’m not a fan of yellow but I love how the cover incorporates the television color spectrum. The use of color versus black and white is utilized very well and makes for a very striking book cover.
I’m the kid you saw on TV.
A.S. King takes a current cultural phenomenon and turns everything on it’s head. As an ex-reality show star, Gerald is known for being the “Crapper”. While his father works and then comes home to drink himself into oblivion, his mother keeps renovating their gated community household. His older sister Tasha has dropped out of college and screws her boyfriend down in the basement so everyone can hear. His other sister, the only one who really understood their family, has gone off to college leaving Gerald to fend for himself. Through his job at a sports arena food stand, he meets Hannah who shows him that he isn’t alone because everyone is a little messed up. The chapters flash between the reality show filming when Gerald was a kid and him as a teenage. Both the story progression and well-written character development make this a very interesting read. The book brings up a lot of discussion points about our society and it’s obsession with scripted reality.
Even though I have never experienced the kind of psychological damage that can result from media exposure at such a young age, I couldn’t help but empathize with the protagonist Gerald Faust.
While Gerald leapt off the page, Hannah and especially his family bordered on becoming cliché. Even though Tasha was downright sadistic, the way she was slut-shamed throughout the book didn’t sit right with me. The other sister could have played a larger part but instead remained at college, ignoring Gerald’s need for support. His father and mother just made me furious, especially how the mother defended Tasha. There is a fine line between not accepting that your children have a problem and actively ignoring it – his mother fell in the latter category. But I guess it’s better to feel anger towards a character than nothing at all.
The sentences were short and to the point so that the plot moved forwards in a timely manner. The vocabulary was just as simple and reflected Gerald’s inner monologue.
The character insights just blew me away. I don’t think I’ve come across an author with such a solid grasp of the teenage experience in a long time. But at the same time, I can’t stand reading about absentee and/or neglectful parents. Also, I didn’t appreciate how it ultimately came down to Gerald’s relationship with Hannah that allowed him to separate himself from his past.