ARC Review: Reality Boy by A.S. King


title:  Reality Boy

author:  A.S. King

pages: 368

format: Paperback ARC

isbn/asin: 978-0316222709

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Chuck Palahniuk, John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, The Fault in Our Stars), psychology, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and realistic teen issue books like Manicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen or If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch. 

My Ratings Explained

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.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

the basics
I will re-read this book someday.  It's the perfect mix of character-driven and excitingly plotted.  The narrative voice is strong, portraying Gerald's intense, closeted rage and desperate attempts to suppress it in a way that is nuanced and that shows who he is beyond his anger.  It reminds me of Palahniuk's Choke or Fight Club in that the narrator is a messed-up kid and there are persistent themes that run through the story and tie it together.  I am Jack's smirking revenge.  It feels natural, as does the voice.  It's hard for an adult to write a good teenager, and King has it down perfectly.  There are some fantastic elements to the plot, but it's made believable by the extreme nature of the set-up: a boy filmed on reality TV as a child, now grown.  But in today's world of Honey Boo Boo, Supernanny, and all that other voyeuristic crap, it's not so unrealistic.  Wonder how those kids on those shows will be affected?  Read this book.  It's touching, powerful, beautifully written, and exciting all at the same time, with a touch of romance and a raw look at the most dysfunctional minds.  

plot . 5/5
Never a dull moment.  Even when not much is happening, Gerald's inner voice is so rich that I had to cover up the next page to stop myself from reading ahead, I was so eager to know what would happen next.  Some bits are a little predictable.  You know that the girl at counter #7 is probably going to figure in romantically.  You know the parents are going to be weird.  But there are plenty of moments that you don't expect.  The interlacing of present action and memories of the reality show episodes allows King to subtly make some important points--to show how the past and the future mimic each other.  It's an exciting climax with a romance that is not idealized, which makes me happy.  The ending is on a happy note (not without bittersweetness), which made me smile because I was so invested in Gerald finally getting something good. 

concept . 5/5
Reality shows are an epidemic these days.  A plague, one might say.  Sure, the adults who get into it have their issues already and make their own choices.  What about the kids?  What about those youngsters on Supernanny and Wife Swap and Toddlers in Tiaras who are there by parental decision and are going to grow up some day, knowing half the world saw them at their worst?  King gives you that answer.  It sucks.  King writes a shocking and genuine story about how one teenager's life is affected by the story the cameras told, and how deeply flawed and artificial that story was.  It's the story underneath that makes a difference, and that's what this book gives you.  

characters . 5/5
I could nitpick a little, but I really don't feel like it.  It was such a great book.  The only character I wasn't fond of was Hannah.  I felt that something was missing in her story.  Or maybe her behavior just annoyed me and I didn't totally like her, so maybe it's my own baggage getting in the way.  On the whole, everyone was portrayed deeply and authentically.  Gerald was immediately relatable and lovable.  His mother is a villain by neglect, his sister Tasha the perfect example of a successful psychopath.  His dad is a coward.  His other sister is a deserter.  Joe Jr. is a great foil.  The nanny is a fake actress with mixed motives.  It's a dysfunctional cast and I could imagine every one of them being a real person.  

style . 5/5
The style is great.  Gerald's voice is at times beautiful, but not in any kind of poetic way that would be unlikely for a teenage boy.  It's real and raw.  There are tons of expletives (cleverly and cutely pictured as @#*)@#$(*, which tells you something about Gerald), and there are concise and spot-on phrases that make you stumble and read again.  It's accessible enough for younger teens and deep enough for older teens and adults.  

mechanics . 5/5
The back and forth passages were genius.  You start with Gerald in the now, and then you get a memory of a past Network Nanny episode.  It's a memory of what they aired, but also of what they didn't air.  It shows you the way you as a TV viewer are being lied to, and the way that Gerlad is affected by what's kept secret.  It's a brilliant way to deepen the storyline and to show important details when they're most useful.  

take home message
A rich, raw tale of the price paid for entertainment, not by the viewers but by the victims of the camera; all through the eyes of one angry, desolate boy.  

Note: I received an ARC of this copy through ARC World Tours.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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