Reality Boy by A.S. King
From Goodreads: Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.
Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.
Review: 5 out of 5 Stars
I loved this book. But it wrecked me.
Gerald is just about to turn seventeen years old. When he was five, a reality television show came to his home to “help” his parents with discipline. As part of his acting out, Gerald took to defecating around his home. Apparently this was very popular viewing twelve years ago, and lives on through YouTube, and so Gerald has grown up in his home town known as The Crapper. You can imagine how that has been for him.
After a very violent and angry period in middle school, Gerald has spent a lot of time trying to stifle any emotion that could possibly lead to anger. But that’s tough since his biggest trigger – your psychopathic sister – is still living in the house with him and still tormenting him. This book was an examination of what it is like for Gerald to grow up after being in that fishbowl of reality television and how he is succeeding at unmaking the “reality” that was edited for him all those years ago, both in his mind and in the minds of others.
I read a lot of Young Adult literature, and one thing that is always fascinating for me as a person who is no longer a young adult (and, in fact, is teenager number of years away from being one) is re-living the pain that comes with being a teen. You are just on the cusp of figuring out who you are and experiencing life away from home and all that comes with that, and in some ways you feel completely ready, but you are not quite there yet. And that can sometimes be a suffocating feeling.
Great YA is often about these moments when as a teenager you get glimpses of your real adult life, and the self-discovery that comes with that. This book was no exception. As Gerald meets the girl who will become his girlfriend, and forces himself to put words to his history, he is finally able to catch glimpses of his true self. That self-discovery was written so beautifully, and so painfully. A.S. King is a master of this kind of writing. She is a forever champion of the underdog and writes those kinds of characters with pitch perfect accuracy.
But reading this as a parent of my own three-year-old son was almost impossible. I had to put the book down many times because of the pain that was radiating off the page. I have a really hard time now reading about characters that are just wrecked by their parents, especially their mothers. And Gerald’s family was a doozy.
One scene in particular, early in the book, nearly broke my heart. Gerald is working at a hockey game and a woman comes up to him to recognizes him from the show. Gerald is on edge when he realizes this, but all she wants is a hug. And to apologize. And Gerald realizes that this is the first time he has been hugged in his memory.
I also wanted to jump into this story and give him a hug. And more therapy. And another hug. I wanted to go back in time and wrap up that little five-year-old and protect him from life. It just felt so utterly painful and real.
With this book King succeeded not only at writing this beautiful story about Gerald, but also – hopefully – at making us question our society’s fascination with “reality” television and the need for fame. We become fascinated with these people without really knowing any single unedited thing about them. It’s such a crazy thing and one that King explores in a very intelligent way here.
If I had any little complaint, it’s only the ending which slightly put me off, and the fact that Gerald seems to be relying so heavily on his girlfriend to effectuate his self-discovery. I appreciate that his relationship allows him to speak so many of his truths for the first time, but I also hope that down the line he is able to find this love from himself and not necessarily only externally.
As you can tell, I highly recommend this novel. A.S. King writes excellent, complex characters, who begin their story cocooned in pain, but eventually emerge into something beautiful. Gerald was a great character and his story will definitely stick with me. I can’t wait to devour more of her novels immediately.