Schadenfreude in a Box

Reality Boy - A.S. King

Some pre-emptive clarification: I am aware that reality TV as a genre is pretty broad and it's irresponsible to summarily call everyone starring in a reality show a famewhore and anyone who watches it broken and unknowingly depressed, seeking comfort through Schadenfreude. 


But some shows, some really horrible reality TV shows, just begs me to.


And Reality Boy reflects on these bizarre human inventions and the collateral damages they incur. 


Everybody knows Gerald Faust. Or at least everyone claims to know him thanks to Network Nanny, a cable show that filmed a "Nanny" help his parents in disciplining him and his sisters, Tasha and Lisi. On that premise alone, the psychosocial ramifications and emotional impact on a child as young as Gerald was is already too complex to contemplate but if you add the dysfunctional nature of his family (which was the reason for the filming to begin with) then it just shifts to plain horrid.


Isn't that what fame is, anyway? Being slaves to little people? My slave name was the Crapper. My slave job is to crap and make millions of little people happy.


Predictably, this child rearing experiment fails, leaving the Faust Family a little more abnormal than they were in the beginning and are now plagued with rage and violence issues, psychotic breakdowns and desertions. Working in a food stand, taking SPED and anger management classes while also boxing (yes, WTF) on his downtime, Gerald has moved on from being "The Crapper" to "The Crapper Who Will Probably End Up Killing Someone, Getting Killed or Both". He has been dismissed to a non-existent future and when the only person he trusted and shared that traumatic past with leaves, it doesn't make sense much to fight that inevitability.


This was a tough book to review for me because the bigger message that it's trying to deliver just doesn't end in one issue and Gerald's complexity is not the simple sum of his mother's neglect, his father's passivity,Tasha's abuse and Lisi's abandonment. Whenever the story shifted back to the past when they were shooting the show with the fake nanny, I forge a sympathetic bond with him as a boy but at the same time Developmental Psychology kicks into overdrive and it will make you wonder if he's going to use a bomb to kill everyone in school or shoot random hotdog buying, hockey fans in the food stand. 


He was a guy on the edge with barely-repressed violence that everyone seems to be hell bent on unleashing despite his best efforts not to by receding into "Gersday" trances with Snow White conversations, traveling on butterscotch roads and trapeze hallucinations with Lisi.


I am not a Walt Disney character. I am Gerald.

I am Gerald and I will never be anyone but Gerald.


There was no romanticizing of his desperate attempts to insulate himself from everyone with dignified strength and aggression. He was a sad and broken character who you can't help but smile whenever a small bit of joy and goodness comes his way in whatever form that may be. 


Initially I found his relationship with Hannah a little too charmed and indie-film, but somewhere towards the middle I finally got to appreciate her purpose through her backstory. I find the symmetry of finding potential salvation through a girl like Hannah (a reality TV fan, among other ironic things) after being repeatedly failed by the women in his life fitting and perfect. There were scenes between them that has been done before in this genre but their chemistry in their banter totally made up for a couple of cliches. 


"You're sitting in front of the word asshole which you wrote on my car and you call me dramatic? Seriously. You-the girl who ran away to get murdered," I say. "That's some kettle calling the pot black."

"That's racist," she says.


Reality Boy offers most of the staples in realistic contemporary YA fare with elements of romance, witty dialogue and equal distribution of quirky and disturbing in the supporting cast. But at the same time it comes across off-beat with the evident lack of a dramatic climax, an ending that felt strangely abrupt  and Gerald's monopoly of the storyline. True, he's an interesting enough character, but I wouldn't have minded a bit more depth and insight into Tasha and their mother's backstories. I find the issue between them quite fascinating and unique. I did find the ending not only abrupt but also this side of illogical. It felt like the metaphor got too abstract and how it related to reality too oversimplified into convenience. 

They run away with the circus, he finally tries to jump on the trapeze and when he lets go to drop on the safety net, suddenly he's cured? They get home and both his and Hannah's issues are gone?

(show spoiler)


But for delivering a story that resonates in its timeliness and honesty I can't say I wasn't impressed with how this read easily despite the heavy nature of the subject. It was smart without being daunting and conversed what it was trying to say in a clever manner.  


I particularly loved how this initially led me to believe the theme was You Can't Always Get What You Want when its actually (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction in the end.


ARC provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers thru NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.