I ask you: Imagine any five-year-old who’s surrounded by cameras. Imagine he lives in the postal area UF [unfair]. Consider that he has so little giveashit that he has started crapping on the kitchen table in front of video cameras. Then ask this question. He will not know how to answer.
So I freaked out.”
How do you live down being “The Crapper?” When Gerald Faust was 5, his family was part of a reality TV show called Network Nanny, on which he expressed his frustration over his family’s dysfunction by pooping in unconventional places–his mother’s shoes, the kitchen room table. His “dirty” habit made him an instant TV celebrity, yet the “reality” show failed to capture the reality of his situation: that it was a plea for help, a request that his parents take notice of him, that his older sister Tasha stop hurting him. Already emotional, the presence of TV cameras and a fake nanny in his home served to compound his anger. Eleven years later, Gerald is still grappling with his rage, an unhealthy home environment, and the stigma of his childhood claim-to-fame.
“I just want a chance to start over and have a real life. One that wasn’t fucked up from the beginning and broadcast on international TV like a freak show.”
The chapters switch between first person accounts of his life as a 16-year-old and recollections of filming Network Nanny. Gerald’s narrative voice is arresting in its authenticity. He gives his environments/emotional states postal abbreviations (UF: unfair, FS: furious state) and invents an extra day of the week, “Gersday,” where he can eat ice cream and not be tortured by Tasha. He tries to control himself with exercises from his anger management coach. He takes on the speed bag at the boxing ring after school.
All these things reveal a troubled, lonely teen struggling to achieve a normal life, and you want him to succeed more than anything. As toxic as his family life is, past and present, Gerald does not wallow in his misfortune. He gets mad. Gerald’s realizations about his life may be infuriating but they also are empowering and give him the drive he needs to change his situation. The idea of escape runs throughout the novel. He longs to follow the example of his sister Lisi, who goes to college in Scotland. He dreams his way out of reality by going off into Gersday. He contemplates running away with the circus, willingly performing before the crowd this time. He imagines a new life with the cute girl from register #1. The dreams run counterpoint to reality, yet the more he understands about his family, the more he is able to bring the two into alignment and stand up for himself.
Reality Boy is the first book I’ve read by A.S. King, but it made me want to get my hands on everything else she has written. A quick look at all the honors her writing has garnered makes me believe this task will be nothing short of pleasurable. A recent article in the L.A. Times says, “Over the course of five books, A.S. King has established herself as a singular voice in today’s young adult literature….King never writes the same book twice…” There is a definite ease to her writing. Both her story and characters take shape without ever feeling forced or contrived, yet they still achieve the distinction of being truly original.
It feels like blasphemy to admit, but I know I’d love all of John Green’s books if they were written by A.S. King. As I’ve said before, the biggest barrier between Green’s works and myself is that I can’t connect with his characters. They aren’t realistic. They are too idealized. King on the other hand, has written characters that I believe could exist in this world–some may be extreme or unconventional–but they are still believable. For this reason, I was invested in her story in a way I never was with A Fault in Our Stars. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Green’s book isn’t good–it is, but it has the feel of window shopping for lovely, unattainable things, where a pane of glass is always between you and their sequined glow. Reality Boy, on the other hand, is the perfect sweater you wear out of the store.
In addition to being a wonderful writer and storyteller, King is a big supporter of libraries and independent bookstores, which makes me love her all the more. Definitely visit one of these locations and take one of her books home with you or get it for someone on your gift list this holiday season.