New York: Little Brown, 2013.
ARC copy reviewed
Do you ever what happens to the kids whose lives are televised for the world to see in the booming age of exploitative reality television? A.S. King certainly does. In her latest novel, protagonist Gerald Faust can tell you from personal experience that it is not a burden you wish on anyone, especially a child. Now a teenager, he is still known and mocked for his fecal exploits on the reality TV show SuperNanny, and the subsequent and unwanted Internet replay stardom. Not surprisingly, he has some serious anger management issues. He boxes, has regular sessions with a therapist, attends special ed classes, and holds a job as he strives to get through his day, despite the bullying that makes him want to explode, and his rather dysfunctional family. He is on the brink, either of collapse or major change. This title is an engagingly and thoughtfully crafted alternative coming of age title. It is strongly recommended to high school aged teens and adults.
A.S. King is right - you do really have to wonder about the potential for harm the exploitative nature of reality TV in the lives of the children whose parents choose to subject them to the lens. It's a totally weird and foreign concept in some ways, and totally normal in others. I know I'm not the only one out there whose Facebook feed is covered with pictures and videos of children -- even ULTRASOUNDS. As John Palfrey and the crack researchers at Berkman point out, these kids? Their WHOLE lives are there for the world to see. And worse, in the case of reality TV, it's there, edited, biased, and ready for your judgment. It's a huge burden to place on a kid who a) can't say no, and b) doesn't really even have the wherewithal to be able to tie their own shoelaces.
Anyways, rant over. This book is great, and not just because it makes you wonder about the kids like the Duggars and the John and Kate Plus 8's and all the other kids of the world who have appeared on reality TV. This book is great because it tells a story, makes you connect with and root for someone who is struggling, and then somehow still lets you form your own judgements. Well played, A.S. King! In the interest of full disclosure, I might have seriously considered creating a frozen chocolate covered banana recipe for this, before ruling that Reality Boy would not approve. But I wouldn't blame you for snatching the idea for your own pooptacular book club spread (now you totally want them, right?).
Here are some of my ruminations on and favorite parts of the text:
Gerald's description and deep respect for his classmates in his special education classroom is touching. It wonderful to see characters who are less able, physically and mentally, presented as people, not altruistic ideas. Big snaps, A.S. King. These scenes also made me think of the excellent Tales of the Manman's Underground. If you like this book and also The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you will probably dig Madman's.
I really identified with Gerald's description of what happens when he starts his boxing workout:
I like the trance. It unwraps me. For fifteen minutes I am unbound from the layer of plastic wrap I've been wrapped in my whole life. I can see better, smell better, hear better. I can feel. Sometimes the speed bag makes me want to cry, it's so good. I don't cry, though. I just lose the rhythm and wrap myself up again - head to toe. (p. 20)
I often feel the same meditative trance-like state and the clarity he describes when when I'm running. Exercise and endorphins, team. It's where it's at, especially when you need to just dissociate and lose yourself for a little while!
Lastly, I'd like make the assumption that someone paid attention to Gerald's description of putting on imaginary war paint in the morning before heading into school (p. 43), and designing a cover that looks like someone took inspiration from it. Big snaps if this is the case - I love a cover that makes sense for the book!
In short, if you're looking for an alternative, thoughtful coming of age, try this book. The end. Or maybe this is the beginning of a great new relationship between you and Reality Boy?