Little, Brown 2013
Gerald was an angry/bad/troubled/awful little boy. And everyone knows it. Every aspect of his rage, frustration and confusion was played out on national TV in glorious, awful Technicolor. The ultimate problem child, his issues made for great entertainment for the masses. Twelve years on and Gerald has his rage pretty much under control - not bad for a kid known universally as The Crapper - attending an anger management programme and keeping his head generally below the bar. Yet, as he approaches his seventeenth birthday he has an overwhelming feeling that his life has been terribly Unfair. For all that everyone knows everything about him, for all that they watched as he was pigeonholed before he even started school, no one ever wondered what was behind the nice house and the clever editing and the fake nanny. Now, he doesn't believe that anyone ever will so perhaps it's time for him to take matters into his own hands and confront his family, or run from their rotten core.
Gerald is a character who will break your heart. Utterly screwed over as a young child, he has spent his life living a label, condemned by a society who long ago decided his future (special ed, jail, Amen). As a result, he's a ball of frustration and confusion, an incredibly angry character who long ago realised that acting out physically gave him the only satisfaction he could garner in a terribly fucked up situation. What started out as a young child behaving in an incredibly disturbing way has developed into a young man with a penchant for violence - albeit one that he is learning to successfully control. Gerald's temper could make him hard to like, but it is so utterly understandable and he works so hard to avoid triggers (which is hard, given his fame and his home life) that instead he is an incredibly sympathetic character. Particularly moving is his ability to retract from the real and everyday into his own imaginary world, a world filled with all the things that his childhood self should have had - circuses and candy and ice cream and Disneyland. It's heartbreaking, as is his slow coming of age, his understanding that he cannot linger in the unfairness of his past and that only he can pull himself out of it towards a brighter future.
Gerald's parents are a study in denial and disregard. His mother seems to have actively brought a film crew into her family's life in order to justify her own desperately pre-conceived ideas of the family dynamic (primarily that Gerald is deeply problematic) and justify her inability to love her children equally. Her husband stands by, weakly, seeing the truth all too clearly while saying nothing. They are hugely disturbing and one of the only flaws of Reality Boy is that they seem too awful to be real - yet they are so cleverly written that it's easy to imagine them existing. As is briefly surmised towards the end of the book, no prospective mother ever expects their child to be awful and Reality Boy is an interesting illustration of what happens when a mother, faced with a terrible truth, descends into denial in order to cope. The terrible truth in this case (as is clear from early on in the book) is Gerald's eldest sister, Tasha. Tasha is an incredibly frightening character, who jumps from the page and into the mind of the reader - where she is likely to stay for some time. She is the kind of character who makes it hard to breathe and Gerald's increasing feeling of suffocation will be palpably felt as the pages are turned.
Reality Boy, while compelling and skillfully written (Gerald's narrative voice is exceptionally strong) is not exactly the kind of book that you like - it's far too bleak for that - but it is the kind of book that should be read. In a world of Supernanny and Fat Camp and 16 and Pregnant, it is vital that we consider the morality of the format, understand that the editing booth plays a large part in what we see and stare our own Schadenfreude in the face. AS King has written an alarming and disturbing tale for the Big Brother generation, one that should be read and considered and discussed in media studies classes and lectures wherever reality TV rears its often ugly head. Highly recommended to all, particularly if you also enjoyed Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian (another great story with a conflicted male protagonist) or Jennifer Castle's, You Look Different in Real Life, which also shines a light on the what really happens after the camera's leave.
This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Reality Boy is available now and we'd like to thank Little, Brown and Edelweiss for providing us with a copy to review. Additionally, the YAckers are YAcking this title SOON, so keep an eye out.