I am not the type of person to denounce the existence of reality tv as the worst thing to ever happen to modern entertainment. Frequently in college you could find me and my friends huddled around our dorm tv, watching marathons of America’s Next Top Model and arguing over who we think should be eliminated that episode. My netflix queue is filled with shows such as Chopped, Kitchen Nightmares, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Say Yes to the Dress. But one area of shows I’ve stayed away from are ones involving children. Dance Moms, Toddlers in Tiaras, Nanny 911 and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo felt overly exploitative in the manner which children were being used as entertainment.
But what happens to those kids after they’ve grown and come to the realization that the world now has seen a highly edited version of their actions and behaviors, and know them only as “that kid on the tv show?” In Reality Boy, Gerald Faust was one of the featured children on a Nanny 911 equivalent. Known for his extreme anger issues and over the top tantrums, 5 year old Gerald quickly became known as “the crapper” due to his habit of expressing his immense anger by pooping on things throughout the house. Now 16 years old, Gerald still is known around his hometown as “the crapper” and is still very, very angry. He is constantly teased at school, causing him to get into more and more violent outbursts, simultaneously pushing away anyone who tries to get close to him and making him unable to escape his reality television days.
Everyone knows that reality television is scripted and edited for maximum entertainment value. But in Reality Boy you really get to see just how much of Gerald’s outbursts were at best staged and at worst manipulative of what was really happening in the Faust household. Seeing him deal with this unresolved anger and finding out why he’s so angry was the driving force of the book for me. As we continue deeper into the book we start seeing just how bad Gerald’s life is, and realize along with him the situations he’s been manipulated into that have been contributing to his easily angered state.
Gerald’s relationships with his classmates, school crush, and therapist were secondary to me. I found myself only caring about their reactions to Gerald and the pain he was going through. Would they believe his claims? Would they get him the help he needed? Or would everyone fail him and just watch as he self imploded in a firey ball of rage? These are interesting and compelling questions but also left the secondary characters feeling less fleshed out to me.
In the end, I was both pleased and disappointed with the ending. There is a sense of realism that the reader is left with and I appreciated the author’s avoidance of a wish fulfillment happily ever after. Gerald is dealing with serious issues both internally and externally and they cannot be resolved with the wave of a wand. But on the same token, I really wanted to see what happened after the book was over. I wanted to see the reactions of those secondary characters to events leading to the book’s ending.
I greatly enjoyed Reality Boy and thought it offered a very interesting and unique point of view from a troubled teen who the entire world know only as “the kid who crapped on everything when he was 5 on that tv show.” It simultaneously explores issues of constructed reality television and its effects on the child participants along with internalized anger and what can cause extreme boughts of violence in troubled teens. I wish we had explored more of the aftermath of Gerald’s actions, but cannot be fully disappointed by the ending. A.S. King proves once again her expertise at telling complex and interesting stories about non conventional teens.