Book: Reality Boy
Author: A. S. King
Age Range: 14 and up
Reality Boy is A. S. King's latest young adult novel. It's told from the first-person viewpoint of (almost) 17-year-old Gerald, known far and wide as "the crapper" because of his role 12 years earlier as a reality TV star who would, well, express his disapproval by relieving himself in inappropriate places (like the kitchen table). Gerald's current experiences are interspersed with flashbacks to scenes shot for the television show (not all of which were actually aired).
Gerald's defining characteristic is his anger. The things he has to be angry about are revealed gradually throughout the book, beginning with the television producers and fake nanny who exploited him when he was younger. The level of dysfunction in his family gradually comes clear, too. Gerald copes by wrapping himself in emotional saran wrap. He also spends a lot of his time zoning out, living in a fantasy world that he calls Gersday. (Ironic, for a former reality TV star to spend so much time living in a fantasy.)
Things start to change for Gerald when he meets a girl, Hannah, who has problems of her own. He also becomes friends with a boy, Joe Jr., who works at his family's circus. Learning that other people have flawed families helps to start Gerald back on the path to reality.
It's very A.S. King to take this rather odd premise and produce a book that is hard to put down. Despite the fact that he's not all that likable, I still cared what happened to Gerald. I'd keep thinking "just one more chapter," and I would keep reading.
I personally found some of his fantasizing to be a bit much (there's a surrealist flavor to it, as in a scene in which he views three people that he's talking with as cartoon characters). And his language is definitely rather crude (though the truly bad language used by Joe Jr. and his family is masked like "$%#*ing", at least in the digital ARC). But it does feel authentic. Here are a couple of examples of Gerald's voice:
"It's Nichols. He only comes to this stand because he knows I can get him beer. He comes with Todd Kemp, who doesn't say much and seems embarrassed to be around Nichols most of the time because Nichols is such a dick." (Chapter 1)
"And the older I get, the more I think maybe I belong in jail. There are plenty of angry guys like me in jail. It's, like, anger central. If we put together all the jails in this country and made a state out of them, we could call that state Furious." (Chapter 1)
There is some underage drinking in this book, and there is sex. The sex isn't described in detail - in fact, most of the time Gerald just refers to "breaking rule #5" (his attempt to go slow physically with Hannah). But it's there. Gerald's older sister Tasha has noisy sex in the family basement - kind of a sub-theme to the whole book - though we again don't see it in detail. There is skipping of school, and an unsanctioned road trip. Reality Boy is probably not a book that Ms. Yingling is going to put in her middle school library.
Still it's clear that the real miscreants in Reality Boy are not Gerald and Hannah, or even bullies like Nichols. The real culprits are Gerald's parents (and Hannah's parents), and, to a less direct extent, the fans who used an angry five-year-old from a dysfunctional home as entertainment.
Reality Boy is a book that will stay with me. It's not for everyone, but for high schoolers and adult readers, it is compelling and emotionally piercing. A. S. King always makes the reader think, and Reality Boy is no exception.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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