¡Buenos dias, amigos! Nikkie here!
I feel like it’s been quite some time since it’s been just the two of us, wouldn’t you say? With the return of Game of Thrones, as well as our HIMYM project, it’s been almost two months since I’ve put up a solo post. And it’s been even longer since I’ve done a solo post that’s book-related, as my last post was about Riverdale. Clearly we’re overdue!
So, I came into the month of August with a purpose: write a dang post! But I also had another purpose, and it’s one that lends itself to several book posts. You see, back when we were still living in Texas, I came into possession of a stack of advanced reader copies (ARCs) of young adult books (and one middle-grade book). I was pretty excited about it, but because I have a short attention span when it comes to deciding what to read, I kept buying new books and just reading those instead. Or rereading Harry Potter. Or Rainbow Rowell’s books. And that’s how about four years came to pass since I brought these books home, not one of them read.
At the end of July, I was finishing up V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy (first time reading it; loved it!) and trying to decide what I’d read next. Looking over our stacks of books, my eyes trained on a few of those unloved ARCs and snagged. I knew in my heart . . . It was time. So, I gathered all the books into their own stack and declared: I won’t read another book until I get through this stack.* And to keep me honest, I intended to blog about it.
*I am reading other books, but only essay collections and only at night. These ARCs are my exclusive commute/daytime reads.*
Because of our GoT posts and some semi-regular external writing I’ve been doing, however, I am three books behind on the actual blogging portion! But I’m here now, and that’s what counts!
I’m gonna keep try to keep this short and sweet because I’m writing this post while sick. DEDICATION!
The first book I’m discussing for the Amazing ARC Adventure is Reality Boy by A.S. King, which was published in October 2013. It’s the story of 17-year-old Gerald Faust, who suffers from very intense anger issues brought on by the very real abuses both he and his sister Lisi endure from their oldest sister, Tasha. When he was 5, his parents decide that his “acting out” needs to be solved with professional helps, so they sign the family up to be on a show called Network Nanny.
The fact that Gerald is treated as the problem when he’s simply reacting to Tasha’s threats, attempts on his life, and overall shitty attitude causes him to express his anger in a particularly simple way: he poops at will all over the place. On the dining room table, in his mom’s shoes, in Tasha’s bed. As a result, he’s known as the Crapper, and this is a nickname that has followed him for his entire life.
The story is primarily told in the present, with chapters every now and then looking back at the family’s time filming the show. As a teen, Gerald is in anger management therapy and constantly wondering when he’s going to finally snap and end up in jail. He works at a stadium that seems to mostly put on hockey games and circus acts, and he’s got a crush on a girl who works one of the registers. At school, he’s in special education classes despite not needing extra care—but he likes how safe he feels—and at home, he tries to survive the fact that Tasha dropped out of college and moved back in to have loud, frequent sex with her disgusting boyfriend. Their parents do nothing about it, and Lisi ran off to Scotland to go to college (and she never calls). All the while, he zones out and visits Gersday in his mind, a place where everything goes his way—and Tasha doesn’t exist.
Things begin to turn around with the smallest moment: A woman attending a hockey game recognizes Gerald as the little boy from Network Nanny, and she tells him that she’s sorry for what happened to him. She hugs him, and he cries because when was the last time someone cared?
Eventually, after his parents go out of town and Tasha throws a raucous party (and gets Gerald into a fight by forcing some guy’s girlfriend to kiss him), Gerald decides it’s time to take control of his life. With the help of his only friends, he sets out to prove that something’s gotta give if he’s going to survive.
I had a lot of feelings about this book. Mostly, I was stressed out and upset because Gerald’s mom is horrible. In the present, she actively blocks out Tasha’s shitty behavior, turning on appliances and pretending to make smoothies to drown out the carnal sounds coming from the basement at all hours of the day. In the past, she was violently aligned with Tasha, refusing to believe that she was to blame for any of the trouble caused. She’d do Tasha’s homework for her, then protest when this inappropriate behavior was pointed out. When Gerald and Lisi spent hours in his room with the actress-nanny from Network Nanny, Tasha pooped in her own bathroom sink and blamed it on Gerald; their mother believed her instantly, despite the actress-nanny pointing out that Gerald hadn’t left her side. She was the one who pushed for Gerald to be in special education classes, and at one point in the book, he realizes that she needs him to be mentally handicapped because it lets her off the hook for being a bad mother. And that’s her whole thing: She refuses to take ownership for how crappy she is.
As the examples of how poorly Gerald’s mother treated him and how little she actually cared piled up—he later reveals that he once overheard her telling his father that she only had enough love to give Tasha because she was the first and that she barely even wanted Lisi—I just felt more and more uncomfortable. How could a woman like this exist? How could she be a mother?! Then, naturally, I got very sad because of course there are people out there who mess with their children’s minds like this and in even worse ways. A while back, I read a book called Mother, Mother (by Koren Zailckas, whose memoirs on alcohol abuse and anger are great reads) that has an even more frighteningly manipulative family dynamic at play. So I’m no stranger to a story where the mother is a terrible person. But it was still pretty hard to stomach. Perhaps because I’m thinking so much about starting my own family. It was like “My God, could I become this? Could I love my first child so much that I’m incapable of providing love to my other children, even if the first one turns out to be a sociopath?” It’s a disturbing thought to have!
Like the woman from the hockey game, I wanted to steal Gerald away and just give him a better home to grow up in.
And in case you’re wondering, Gerald’s dad is mostly silent, though he has his moments of sticking up for Gerald and Lisi, both in the past and in the present. I’m upset with him for taking so long, but at least he does something in the end.
I also kinda wish there was more explanation to why Tasha was so terrible. I get that some apples are just rotten, but was there a point where she was kinda normal and then she turned? Like Joffrey?
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All that aside, I’m not sure how I felt about the book overall. I think it might’ve moved a little fast once it came to Gerald learning that his life outside of his family doesn’t have to be terrible. Without giving too much away, there’s a scene during Gerald’s Grand Gesture where he gets into a fight with one of his friends because he had spaced out to Gersday. The whole ordeal, including its resolution, seemed really off to me. Like . . . A.S. King didn’t want to just give Gerald nice, normal moments (well, as nice and normal as a moment can be when you’re trying to shake your family awake to how terribly they treat you), so this had to have some element of drama to it as well. But it also still had to end on a positive note because it was still the best aspect of his life, so the fight couldn’t last very long. It just came off as too formulaic to me—”Insert Minor Setback Because Nothing in Life is Perfect” and all that.
But weirdly enough, the resolution to his family issues is basically glossed over, and I feel like it makes total sense to do that. Given that the problem was so glaringly obvious, there was only a handful of ways to deal with it, and all the options were brought up at some point over the course of the novel. So once it came down to choosing an action, we didn’t really need to see the conversation or have long scenes devoted to it. It was taken care of quickly, and I appreciated that. Much like the fight scenes at Casterly Rock and Highgarden in “The Queen’s Justice,” we didn’t *need* to see the whole thing; we could subsist on the implications.
As my “first” foray into the Amazing ARC Adventure, I’d say this was . . . interesting. I don’t think I would’ve picked this book if I’d come across it today, which I can probably say about most of the books in the stack, just based on their cover summaries. And yes, there’s a story to why I put first in quotes; more on that in a future post. But there’s something to be said about stepping slightly out of your usual reading zones.
Hopefully I’ll be back soon with more book posts!! But you’ll probably get GoT and HIMYM posts first lol.
May your TBR piles tower but never topple,