Reality Boy is not a book I would have read if I hadn’t been given a copy. This is a young adult novel about a teenage boy. I’m not exactly the target audience. However, I thought the premise of Reality Boy was fascinating.
Gerald is almost 17. When he was five, his family was featured on a reality show called Network Nanny. Gerald was portrayed as the problem child, violent and reactive. Twelve years later, that reputation haunts him and his family.
We live in a world where children are growing up not just with reality TV, but on reality TV. What does it do to a child to be observed and criticized publicly? To be turned into entertainment for thousands to watch?
Unfortunately, Reality Boy doesn’t go very deep. Within the first few pages, I found myself thinking, “Show, don’t tell,” as Gerald explains his life to us. But that doesn’t change and the novel mostly tells us why Gerald’s life sucks without giving us much evidence to back that up.An example of this is Gerald’s sister, Tasha. Gerald refers to her as his number one trigger and the conclusion of the novel revolves around the revelation that Tasha is a sociopath. Except that we haven’t been convincingly shown that Tasha is a sociopath. Yes, she’s violent but so is Gerald. We see Gerald over and over again barely able to hold himself back from hitting people. He confesses to the reader that he once bit a hole in a classmate’s cheek because he didn’t like being called a certain name. Tasha’s behaviour isn’t excusable but neither is Gerald’s and neither seems worse than the other.
We only hear the story – past and present – from Gerald’s perspective and Gerald is pretty clearly unstable. Maybe he’s meant to be an unreliable narrator but I honestly don’t feel that this novel is that sophisticated.
As Gerald deals with his admittedly messed-up family, he falls in love with his co-worker and they begin a relationship. Maybe the unhealthiest relationship I’ve read about since Romeo and Juliet. Hannah has a screwed-up family too although we don’t ever get to see them. The reveal she offers near the end of the novel – her family secret, if you will – still didn’t explain the interactions with her parents we are privy too. I honestly thought her secret was that her parents are learning disabled but instead it turns out her brother is. Which explains almost nothing about Hannah’s life.
Gerald and Hannah are emotionally and verbally abusive toward each other. When Hannah expresses fear that Gerald could be violent toward – an entirely justifiable fear based on his past behaviour – Gerald gets angry and Hannah is painted as the one out of line. I don’t generally route for couples to fail but I couldn’t envision a happy ending with these two still together.
And yet that’s what King tries to give us. Really, the conclusion is far too simple to actually solve Gerald’s myriad of problems. Here we have a young man who is very seriously damaged and the novel wants us to think getting a girlfriend and living apart from his sister will solve those issues. Instead, what I was left with was the impression that the author did not realise what a flawed and unlikeable character they had created.
There are lots of well-written young adult novels dealing with big issues out there. Reality Boy isn’t one of them.