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Reality Boy

Boy fights to move beyond abusive family in compelling tale.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn a few anger-management techniques, a plain-English definition of schadenfreude, and a little about how reality TV shows are made.

Positive messages

Gerald learns that you need to stand up for yourself and make some basic demands of life, if only to be able to live in a safe environment. He also learns that it feels good just having a goal and working toward it.

Positive role models

Gerald evolves from being a kid destined for jail to a responsible, caring young man in control of his own life. But for most of the story he's a paradox: violent and self-absorbed yet responsible and caring in certain circumstances. His parents are not role models; they either ignore or enable oldest-sister Tasha's psychopathic behavior. Mom actively undermines him at every turn, and Dad hides behind work and communicates with Gerald as a somewhat disinterested friend. Gerald's teacher, Mr. Fletcher, is a minor character who doesn't interact with Gerald outside the classroom, but he's a great model of patience, creativity, and the joy of doing what you love. Anger-management counselor Roger provides helpful advice but doesn't address any other aspect of Gerald's complicated life other than controlling his anger. Girlfriend Hannah is creative and intelligent and models good self-esteem and high expectations of Gerald.

Violence

About a half-dozen fights are mentioned or described without gore or detail, but a past fight in which Gerald bit off part of another kid's cheek is described, again without detail. Blood is mentioned as part of some of the fights or of their aftermaths with brief mentions and little detail. Eldest child Tasha has in the past frequently hit both siblings and their mother, frequently attempted to suffocate or drown Gerald, and once choked their mother in a fit of rage. Occasional punching of walls or inanimate objects is mentioned, and the physical sensations are briefly described. One of the fights takes place at the boxing gym in the ring and is described in some detail, including mention of blood.

Sex

Gerald, 17, and his girlfriend Hannah, 16, kiss a few times. One incident mentions tongue but is not described in detail. Gerald and Hannah eventually have sex, but it's only alluded to as breaking one of their self-imposed rules and isn't described. Porn is mentioned once, and Gerald's friend Joe asks what's wrong with porn. Gerald sees sister Tasha's boyfriend naked and mentions his "pecker" but doesn't describe it. Tasha and her boyfriend can be heard making loud noises while having sex. Gerald once wonders briefly what his boss looks like naked after he learns she's been skinny-dipping. Gerald and Hannah take off their clothes to jump into a river, but their bodies aren't described.

Language

"Crap," "s--t," or variations on the two (Gerald's nickname is the Crapper) occur on almost every page. Frequent use of "a--hole" and "f---king" or variations of it. Many other swear words are used, each less than half a dozen times, including "bitch," "hell," "Jesus," "d--k," and "bulls--t." Name-calling includes "douche," "douche bag," "gaytard," "p---y," "bastard," "prick," and "son of a bitch." "Turds" is used a half-dozen times. Once, Gerald imagines text messages that include "WTF," "GTFO," and "ROFLMAO."

Consumerism

WWE, BMW, iPod, Hershey's Kiss, and McDonald's are each mentioned once.  Pepsi, Molson, and Band-Aid are mentioned a couple of times each. Gerald's fantasy life involves many classic Disney characters and imagery.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Gerald illegally serves beer at his concession-stand job and is pressured by high-school acquaintances to sell to them. He drinks beer once in the apartment of adult friends. He and his father occasionally talk over drinks at home, and Gerald speculates a few times that his dad's probably drunk. Older-sister Tasha (who's about 21 or 22) throws a big keg party at their house when the parents are out and is described as drunk. His father is mentioned as smoking cigars, but it's never shown. Several adults and teens smoke cigarettes, but Gerald doesn't. Gerald speculates that absent sister Lisi has a pot habit and once wishes he were Lisi's joint so he could get inside her head and understand her. Once Gerald takes "headache pills" for pain and speculates he's a little high from taking them.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Reality Boy by A.S. King (Ask the PassengersEverybody Sees the Ants) depicts emotionally damaged 17-year-old Gerald's struggle to overcome his dysfunctional family background. The emotional impact of Gerald's physical abuse by his sister and his parents' incompetence is powerful. And, although violence is a strong theme, it's infrequently decribed and only mildly bloody when it is. Swearing is frequent, with "s--t" and "crap" appearing on nearly every page, and "a--hole" and "f--k" variations appearing almost as often. Adult and teen characters are mentioned drinking and smoking, and narrator Gerald is depicted drinking a couple of times but not to excess. Sexual content is mild, with a few kisses and one or two mentions of nudity, none of which is described in detail. Gerald mentions having sex with his girlfriend, but he doesn't call it sex and it isn't described directly. 

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What's the story?

The family of REALITY BOY Gerald was on a reality-TV \"nanny from hell\" show back when he was 5, and even with cameras everywhere in the house, the abuse he suffered at his oldest sister's hands failed to come to light. His coping mechanism at the time was to defecate in inappropriate places, earning him the infamous nickname the Crapper. Now Gerald's a 17-year-old junior whose schoolmates continue to make sure he never lives down his past. The abuse at home continues, and as he's gotten older Gerald's mechanism for coping has shifted to an almost-unstoppable violent temper. Despite all the dysfunction, the girl he likes, Hannah, is also interested in him. Little by little they forge a romance and learn from each other how to carve a safe place in this world for themselves and their future.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Award-winning author A.S. King impressively conveys the sad circumstances of Gerald's life without becoming overwrought or maudlin. King carefully reveals Gerald's tremendous depth of character in his continuing insistence that he shouldn't have to live the way he has, and readers will really start rooting for this troubled teen. Some of the circumstances, especially the spectacularly inept parenting, might seem over the top to adults. But older teens will easily relate to Gerald's emotional honesty in the face of his struggle into adulthood. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about reality TV. Do you think those shows are really made the way Reality Boy shows they are? Would you want to be on a reality show? 

  • Do you think Gerald's parents didn't know what Tasha was really like as a kid or knew but didn't do anything about her behavior? Which would be worse?  

  • Have you or a friend been tormented like Gerald and Lisi were by Tasha? How did you or your friend cope? 

Book details

Author:A.S. King
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:October 22, 2013
Number of pages:368
Publisher's recommended age(s):15 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Reality Boy was written by

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