Reality Boy by A. S. King
Gerald became a reality TV star at age five when his mother brought in a television nanny to help him with his anger issues. He had been putting holes in the walls. He then started crapping around the house, often caught on camera. Now Gerald is seventeen and still struggling with anger in his life. His abusive older sister is back home, living in the basement. His closer sister has gone to college in Scotland and never calls. His mother and father are both entirely ineffective to stop anything. Gerald spends much of his time in Gerland, a world filled with ice cream and candy, where no one is angry or mean. But he can’t live there forever, and he has to return to the real world where he has no friends and people call him The Crapper. It’s all too much sometimes for Gerald to handle, but he has to figure out a way to handle things that doesn’t have him escaping to a fantasy world or beating someone bloody.
I found this book to be entirely gripping. The premise of a boy who is damaged by a reality show that is meant to help (at least on the surface) is very clever. As the layers of the story are pulled back, one discovers who the true problem is. King does this in surprising ways though flashbacks that continue to shock even though one thinks all is revealed. This is a book that will do much to show teens that abuse by siblings and children happens to others.
King has created a wounded hero in Gerald. He is stunted by his family, unable to grow up and unable to control his outbursts. The reader aches for him, roots for him and yes is also frightened by his lack of control. He is a teen caught by his past and unable to see a future. One weakness of the book is the depiction of Gerald’s family. They are not fully developed and the book loses something because of that, given that they are so much of the story of Gerald’s dysfunction.
Gerald is a magnificent character, and the book is compelling and harrowing. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from digital copy received from NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.