Initial reaction: I wasn’t expecting much from this read from the beginning, but I have to admit I really grew to care about Gerald’s experiences over the course of the story and I liked how genuine of a character he turned out to be. Caveats everywhere to consider in the scheme of this story – and I can see where it may not hit off well in some measures for content/presentation. Hopefully I can explain that more in the full review.
Holy crud, this book impressed me. I didn’t expect to feel that way about the book when I first read into it, but as I went along, “Reality Boy” drew me into both Gerald’s narrative and experiences. We start the story from the perspective of this teen reflecting on his embarrassing experiences as a five-year old in the media spotlight. Namely his stint on a reality series “Network Nanny,” involving a nanny helping his family.
But the family itself is far more messed up than just Gerald’s experiences as a five-year-old defecating everywhere during the show’s run. One might think at first that this is just a measure for show, that Gerald is a bad kid (and he himself worries about being “locked up” eventually for his behavioral issues. He even bites the cheek of another kid who bullies him at a younger age), but never did this feel like a narrative that included these measures just for show or shock factor. Matter in point, they provide context to just about every scene in which Gerald does something, and usually his “trigger” stems from the actions of his elder sister and surprising revelations from his own mother.
This is not a light read by any measure of the word, I did feel for Gerald in that he struggles between coping with his experiences of the past and dealing with matters in his present, whether it may be the neglect of his family to some serious measures (enough that his other sister left home for college without calling back) to his present relationships (with Hannah, who has issues of her own, but they’re gradually revealed).
That said, as strong as a narrative as this was – with wit, honesty, raw depth, and emotional conflict, there were some things that bothered me. I don’t know if *all* the defecation scenes were necessary through the narrative, and I had serious issues with the frequent use of the R-word (though it does have a purpose in the novel, and I’m glad that Hannah, among other characters, “hangs a lantern” on the issue and brings it to term. Gerald gradually realizes this through the narrative as well and has a nice coming to terms over it.)
This is probably the best teen book I’ve read on the subject matter, fascinating, open, and very real, with some nice touches of other details (light romance, coming to terms, etc.). I would definitely recommend it and I’m looking forward to reading more from A.S. King.
Overall score: 4/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.