Monday, March 31, 2014

YAck Attack: Reality Boy by A.S. King

From Goodreads
 Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.
Otherwise known as: the one where everyone besides the protagonist was a shitbag and we all ranted about it.

Heidi: Are we talking Reality Boy? 'Cause I got thoughts! '

Sya: Erm, I haven't started it yet. I will do so tonight.

Donna: It's one of those books that made me irrationally angry because his parents were such shit bags.

Maureen: Share the thoughts! Yes! That's part of the reason I wanted to YACK this because I had oh so many thoughts and feels after finishing it.

Heidi: Yes! I don't know that I've ever been so angry at parents in a YA novel before. BOTH of them were just freaking terrible. At least usually it's only one. How is it possible that NO adult in these kid's lives ever stepped in though? How incredibly messed up is that? Not just the parents, the real or fake nanny (who both knew what was going on), but not even a single teacher or counselor from school. I realize they were sick of dealing with Gerald, but no one ever took him seriously enough to ask why? His other sister never said anything to anyone? I don't know, this book made me extremely disappointed in adults in general. I really liked the whole 'aftermath of a reality show' take, as it's something that is certainly starting to happen and is one of those interesting socially constructed issues. Adults who choose to do these shows are responsible for their own choices, but what about the kids? I guess there's a reason there aren't many shows that involve them--I mean, would John and Kate still be together if they hadn't decided to plaster their adorable horde on screen? I like to think I wouldn't have watched Gerald's show (any reality shows I watch are competition based like Top Chef), but I suppose if one was taking place in my own neighborhood I probably would out of interest, no matter what it was. I also failed to really connect with this one, which is kind of a reminder to me as to why I don't do much contemp. I rarely connect with them on a level that makes me love them, or I just appreciate them objectively. Though again maybe this is a more cultural/generational based one? Maybe I just don't GET it because I grew up slightly before the 'anyone and everyone can be famous' bit? Maybe it's just because it was a male narrator? I did really click with Ask the Passengers (the only other A.S. King book I've read to date).

Maureen: I've binged on A.S. King lately, after staying away for awhile. (Full disclosure; I met her at last year's Tucson Festival of Books.) Adults are rarely worth their weight in turds in her books, and usually the kids are left floundering around on their own. I think this was a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Gerald was set up as "the bad kid," so everything was filtered through that. What horrified me was how clearly messed up Tasha was and nobody was stepping in on that either.

Maureen: And somehow the whole, "Yep, she's just a sociopath" didn't satisfy me either. I was ready, nay, waiting for something to come out that she'd been abused, because that level of lashing out, that level of vitriol for no reason except what, power play? was a huge red flag for me. Of course, it's Gerald's story and not Tasha's, but. Still.

Donna: On one side I have a very hard time believing NO ONE sought to help him, not his dad who knew very well what was going on, not Lisi, who went off and saved herself when she KNEW Tasha was trying to actually kill them both, not any teachers or his anger management counselor, and see the forest for the trees. On the other than I believe it completely. School personnel are overwhelmed and unless Gerald went to school with visible bruises no one will probably know since he put out a lot of effort to appear normal in school. It seemed like his family fractured around his mom and Tasha in order to save themselves because no one was coming to help any of them. What I don't understand is Fake Nanny's abrupt 180. She saw exactly what was going on, knew EXACTLY what Tasha was doing to them and how dangerous she really was. And all of the sudden instead of seeing that punch as a manifestation of a serious problem that wasn't fixed she turns on a child. I don't understand why, not when she exhibited such empathy before. That one seemed contrived for the sake of the plot. But I think the whole 'every man for himself' thing rings pretty true. People watch reality TV to see how fucked up other people are and thank their stars that's not them. We have a society where people will turn to their video phones first when something's about to happen instead of stepping in to help. People go out of their way in order to not get involved. I don't think this situation's any different and it's evident that a lot of people lack compassion for their fellow man. And common sense to realize that what they see on TV isn't actually real. I watched maybe three episodes of some TV show where "problem" children were sent away to the world's toughest parents (was that the name?) because their biological parents didn't know what else to do. I think a lot of people are immediately drawn to the "fucked up kid" and OMG look how awful they are but I saw them being a product of their parents. The adults are the fucked up ones in that relationship. Toddlers and Tiaras? OMG look how spoiled those children are! What brats! No. Look how shitty the parenting is that enables that kind of behavior. It flabbergasts me that no one thought to reach around the pooping child and take a look at the parents and what they were doing to enable that behavior. Why was Gerald the only one with the shitty nickname, pun intended? I would have liked to have seen the deserved greater repercussions the parents should have received from that show, more than just their marriage crumbling because Tasha's a psychopath and Mommy's Mrs. Bates and Dad doesn't have the sack to do anything about it. Blech. I felt like I was reading a reality TV show. I was hooked but it was a disgusted distance that kept me at arm's length from it. I didn't connect with anyone and I thought Hannah was kind of all over the place (pretty par for the course with teenage girls, it sounded rather familiar) but there was so much drama I couldn't look away.

Melissa: Just finished this last night. And.... wow. I think y'all have expressed what I was feeling pretty nicely, though. This struck me, Maureen: "What horrified me was how clearly messed up Tasha was and nobody was stepping in on that either." I suppose that's realistic, but I wonder why no one realized that the problem child wasn't Gerald. Honestly. That girl needs some serious meds/therapy. And you're right about the parents. BOTH are just beyond horrible, but not for the normal reasons. I found it interesting that the horribleness came from inaction rather than some sort of horrible action. I also found it interesting that it was the child who was doing the abusing, rather than the dad/man/boyfriend. I don't know how common it is, to have a psychopath for a kid, but it made it hard to read. I don't watch reality TV (okay, I do watch Master Chef, but I don't consider it "reality"), but I though this was perfect, Donna: "I felt like I was reading a reality TV show. I was hooked but it was a disgusted distance that kept me at arm's length from it." I, too, read it more clinically than emotionally. I haven't read any other A. S. King. If they're all like this, though, I may not.

Heidi: So...I just spent like 10 minutes responding to everyone and then my computer decided to auto-restart on me so I lost it all. NOT AMUSED. /emoquit (for now)

Maureen: I think some people did realize Tasha was the problem, but those people were so invested in the narrative of Gerald as the root of all the evil in that family, instead of the symptom. Fake Nanny, for instance, always struck me as someone who would eat her own young, never mind someone else's. Even though she did have sympathy for him, if she'd gone to the producers and said, "Hey, Tasha's a demon from hell," they more than likely would have gone, "No, that's not the direction we're going, dear and oh by the way, we're the ones who sign your paycheck." Reality shows do have a script and they do have characters/types marked out and a particular narrative to tell. If Mom or Dad had ever admitted to themselves that their daughter was messed up beyond all redemption, they would have had to admit how epically they'd failed as parents.

Melissa: True, Maureen, except I wanted Mom to realize that the reason she's epically failed as a parent was because Tasha was abusing her -- both emotionally and physically -- and that she was ENABLING Tasha's abuse. Dad, on the other hand, had no excuse to not leave.Or at the very least get that girl on some meds.

Maureen: Or an exorcism.

Sya: I've just finished part one and have jumped down here without reading any comments as I don't want to know what happens. But I had to come and express how utterly terrifying Tasha is... I am assuming that she's an out and out sociopath and the combination of her behaviour and writing that so completely illustrates how trapped Gerard is in his parents denial makes for an intense reading experience.

Maureen: I actually hesitate to call her a straight-up sociopath because some of the crap she was pulling, especially early on, smacked of, "STOP ME. Pay attention to me like you're paying attention to Gerald. Set boundaries." She kept pushing in order to get the attention focused on her. Yes, she's still self-centered like a neutron star, but I feel like she might have been redeemable.

Holly: Yes - I am alive - and I actually tried reading this one although I wasn't feeling like it would be my thing. I read about fifty pages but I have no interest in reading more about Gerald's sucky life and the reality show flashbacks. Sorry guys. But now that my life is a little less crazy I am going to try and be more active on here. I've missed the ranting and the fangirling. And I hope my number comes up soon so I can force you to read one of my picks.

Nicole: I started reading and then spring crept up and I wasn't interested enough from where I ended to continue. Which I guess says something about how I liked the book, but I also might not have been in the mood. ... so I guess it says nothing at all. I'm useless to this conversation, aren't I?

Sya: Maureen, I see what you're saying but I disagree. While the family was focussed on Gerald's behaviour, he was only acting out because of Tasha. She had been trying to kill him for at least a year by the time he was five and had tried to drown Lisi prior to that, also. Perhaps her very first actions were attention seeking but they quickly escalated to the point of sociopathy - rather than a cry for help, her more audacious acts seemed to be designed to make people uncomfortable. I read the book almost in one sitting and found it fascinating. I liked the whole running away to the circus solution that Gerald has in his head throughout and how that tied into his past. It would be easy to wonder why he/Lisi never went for help but I kind of liked the idea that they had at one point had the whole world watching them and no one had helped then. This, to me, explained Gerald's utter belief that no-one would do anything and made his realisation that HE could do something really compelling to read. Saying that, I don't think the book is without flaws - Tasha is frightening but one dimensional and Hannah almost a cliche (which may be the entire point, I'm not sure). I've not read any AS King before but will certainly look up her other stuff. Although not if I want to be happy because this was, if nothing else, utterly depressing.

Melissa: Though this begs the question, I think: how does a 10-year-old (or younger) become a sociopath? Are some kids just inherently THAT cruel? And how did her mother get to be an enabler?

Sya: I watched an interesting documentary where they interviewed diagnosed sociopaths that had been that way since birth. It was fascinating. Most if them lived fairly normal lives but the way they talked about other people was the way we might talk about insects. I think her mother enabled her by the deep denial that there was anything wrong with her daughter at all, therefore allowing her behaviour to continue unchecked and go on to escalate.

Nicole: Sya, what's the name of that documentary? I wanna watch.

Sya: I will look it up. It was part of a whole evening on psychopathy that a British channel did.

Donna: What Sya said. Also see: Dexter. I've only watched the first episode but the conundrum posed between Dexter and his father is fascinating. There his father recognized that his son was a sociopath and he knew there was no cure so what does he do? Is the better path to have him committed and be confined to a cell for the rest of his natural life, possibly only escalating the issue? Or was it better to do what he did and nurture the illness but have him alter it in a way where Dexter is actually a contributing and beneficial member of society? Yes, Dexter is a murder. Of other murderers, pedophiles, rapists. What kind of dad does Dexter have? Tasha is what happens when neither of those two options are chosen and now that I think about it, I wonder if she truly was sociopathic. Her killing animals would have been telltale and would have added an additional element to the story. I think if she really wanted to kill Gerald she certainly could have done it AND gotten away with it with how her mom was. But she didn't. She preferred to terrorize. I'm more inclined to believe she's just a particularly nasty bully simply for the fact that she never followed through on any of her death threats despite ample opportunity to and she's in her early 20s with no blood on her hands that we know of. Surely an unchecked psychopath would have some bodies in her wake by then.

Melissa: So, when Sherlock says he's a "high functioning sociopath" does that mean he's got blood on his hands?

Melissa: Though I think, Donna, you raise some interesting points. The only other fictional sociopath I can think of, right now, is Peter from Ender's Game, and he (at least) tortured animals. Maybe Tasha would be better categorized as a terrorist than a sociopath.

Donna: I've never seen Sherlock so I have no idea. I mean it's highly possible. I'm assuming he had to have some positive influence in his life to be able to get it together enough to not turn into a Charles Manson or something.

Holly: Did I hear someone say Dexter, and someone else say Sherlock? Sigh. I guess I have a thing for sociopaths. Don't mind my tangent. Carry on.

Maureen: There's been some interesting books/articles published lately about functioning sociopaths/psychopaths, and the gist seems to be they aren't always murderous. They just see other people as things. Obstacles, toys, minions, whatever.

Maureen: Interesting how the whole conversation went right to Tasha. Wouldn't she love that.

Melissa: Well, she IS the real problem (to say the least) in the book. I feel bad though and will try and come up with something interesting to say about Gerald.

Melissa: As a side note, as friends of hockey fans, I loved the Hockey Mom. She was awesome.

Sya: Firstly, here is a link to that documentary on a site that I think you will be able to watch it on in the US.

Sya: Secondly, I wanted to mention the portrayal of the kids in Gerald's Spec Ed class, which I thought was brilliant. Particularly Jenny who really stood out as a real person rather than a token girl-in-wheelchair.

Heidi: Oh Sherlock Holmes is definitely the most famous fictional sociopath of all time. I've actually been meaning to read The Sociopath Next Door for a couple of years now, but it probably won't get read any faster than most of the other non-fic I intend to read. But yes, it's another that falls into that niche of pointing out that the majority of sociopaths aren't things like serial killers, but the majority of serial killers are sociopaths. Turns out, a lot of CEOs and the like are sociopaths. Easy to rise to power when you have no loved ones/don't care who you crush to get there. But yeah, I wonder what (if anything) could have been done to curb Tasha, a born sociopath, away from being freaking evil. I def agree that Lisi and Gerald never sought help because their whole lives were on TV and no one ever helped them--why would anyone? Also YES to loving the hockey mom.

Heidi: Also I think RA should be someone from the circus. Like Gerald's friend's dad. Because I like to think of him as boisterous and loud and with a big crazy hate/love family. Every other male adult kind of pissed me off in this book--even the special ed teacher. I like the mental image of RA in a Ringmaster outfit. Just sayin'.

Melissa: Heidi, that's brilliant.

Sya: Heidi, that almost makes up for your Jane Eyre comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment