This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
Reality TV makes a business out of exploiting people. Sometimes, the people on these shows seem perfectly fine with it. They'll happily reveal their messed-up lives for the world to see in their desperate bid for fame. For the most part, I feel no sympathy for these people. I have very different feelings, however, for the children on these shows. They can't consent to the exploitation, but there are unfortunately parents out there who can and will. The late Anna Nicole Smith, those horrible Gosselin people, the Kardashians, the Honey Boo-Boo clan, etc. Other than the money made off the backs of these children, what possible good comes from this? Why are parents allowed to force their children to perform like circus animals to make a few bucks and/or to get fame for Mom and Dad?
In Reality Boy, Gerald's family was already fractured before the cameras came into the house when he was five. But his parents wanted a new kitchen, and Gerald and his brother and sister must fall in line. As with most of these reality shows, not much is real. The producers give the family the basic premise: "The kids misbehave and don't listen. The on-site Nanny (who's actually an actress) will help to fix everything." Then the whole family played their parts; there were conflicts and resolutions that needed to run through their full cycles before the cameras stopped filming. Little Gerald's response was to express his displeasure by defecating on top of tables, in his mother's shoes, and on his sister's toys. By the time the producers left, Gerald's family was even more messed up than they were to begin with.
As a seventeen-year-old, Gerald still feels the effects of the experience. He's full of rage, he's commonly known as Crapper, and he's friendless as a result. His older sister, Tasha, is a sociopath or a psychopath. His parents, and in particular his mother, have always turned a blind eye to the sadistic abuse Tasha inflicted upon Gerald. His other sister, the only person in the family who seems to care about Gerald, fled the country to go to college the first moment she could.
Although there are people in the world who suffer far worse than Gerald, aka Crapper, but A.S. King makes us feel every bit of his suffering. And we root for him, because it's clear he desperately wants to escape his Reality Boy past. When he meets "Register # 1 Girl" (Hannah) while they are both working at a concessions stand, Gerald initially sees a pretty girl. But as they get to know each other, Gerald learns Hannah also feels trapped by her life, and she wants to escape just as much as he does.
The scenes of abuse committed by Tasha are very hard to read. But most of my anger was directed at their mother who knew it was happening and didn't stop it. I hope that doesn't dissuade anyone from reading, because the real highlight is Gerald's desire to overcome his past and find happiness outside of his screwed-up family. The loveliest scene is when a stranger approached the concession stand and informs Gerald that she recognizes him. I won't say anymore than that, because it's so moving, and you should experience it first-hand.
I was on a video chat with A.S. King this week, and she speaks in the same no bullshit way in which she writes. And it was very evident how much she cares for her characters. I was impressed enough with her writing in this book that I purchased four of her earlier books.
Note - I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.